A Tale of Two Cities – Traffic Analysis NY and Chicago City’s Websites

I recently had to pay some bills on the Tel Aviv municipality’s website. This got me thinking. We put a lot of effort at SimilarWeb into verifying and validating our traffic metrics. I wondered if I could use city population as a sanity check against our visit data for December, 2013.

Let’s take two great American cities: New York and Chicago. My assumption is that traffic to a city’s website would be more or less proportional to the city’s population. Using SimilarWeb Pro’s new comparison feature, I quickly called up the monthly traffic for Chicago’s city website, cityofchicago.org, and New York’s website, nyc.gov.

In December, Chicago’s website saw  900 thousand visits while New York had a staggering 4.4 million visits over the same period–that’s 4.9 times more visitors.

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Website Traffic Comparison – SimilarWeb PRO

The latest US census data estimates give Chicago a population of 2.7 million and New York 8.3 million. If New York City has roughly three times more people than Chicago, why does it stand to reason that New York’s website receives five times as much traffic?

I took at look at the pages and sub-domains for each site to see what people were actually doing when they visited. Buzzfeed a municipal website is not. I assumed people pay bills and download forms.

For Chicago’s site, the most popular individual page is parkingtickets.cityofchicago.org. Exactly as we figured, bills and forms. Again, not exactly Buzzfeed material. The page where you pay your parking tickets is a sub-domain of the Chicago’s main site, so we include it in the monthly traffic figures.

However, when you look at New York’s most popular pages, you find that the schools.nyc.gov sub-domain receives 14% of the site’s traffic. Not a surprise either. Kids are the future. Traffic cops: no need to worry. Billing still take a healthy 5% of New York’s traffic share.

So where is Chicago’s school website? Turns out, the Chicago Public School District has it’s own domain at cps.edu which received 370,000 visits in December. Because the CPS has it’s own domain, we don’t count it in the visit figures for Chicago’s municipal website.

Once we add this traffic to the traffic Chicago’s municipal website receives, we find that New York’s site only receives 3.5 times as much traffic as Chicago’s. That’s much closer to the 3x difference between the population of the two cities. However, New York still receives about 16% more visits than Chicago relative to its population.  What accounts for the extra visits?

Perhaps New Yorkers get more parking tickets. Perhaps more tourists visit New York’s website? My Chicago pride will never tell.

About the Author -

Data quality manager, working to make sure that SimilarWeb's measurement metrics are the most accurate in the industry. Former Chicagoan living in Tel Aviv.

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