Ebola Panic Boosts Site Traffic

ebola fighters 2014

TIME magazine’s person of the year for 2014 is a composite of the brave group of health professionals and volunteers known collectively as the Ebola Fighters.

It’s no wonder: This courageous handful of individuals are a small but determined army fighting one of the deadliest epidemics of the 21st century.

The World Health Organization (WHO) puts reported cases of Ebola at 19,000, though they say this figure is an underestimate. So far, 7,388 people are reported to have died from the disease in six different countries. That’s more casualties from any other known Ebola outbreak in history.

To put it lightly, the Ebola epidemic was definitely a blight on 2014, and as such one of the most highlighted topics of the year.

The effects of the epidemic were felt all over the virtual world too, where Ebola quickly became one of the most searched items. The disease topped Google’s list of trending “What is…” searches for 2014. Ebola also placed 3rd on both the US and global lists for Google’s top ten searches of the year.

Using SimilarWeb’s data insights, we discovered that Ebola is also the 7th most popular search term in the Health Category, driving 0.37% of all search traffic to the industry and accountable for 22.5B desktop visits during the year.

As global panic over Ebola began to rise, so did search traffic. We were able to delve into how this epidemic has affected the web, with news and health sites in particular receiving a huge boost in desktop visits.

One of the sites receiving the most traffic from Ebola searches was cdc.gov (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak in December 2013, traffic to the CDC’s website grew by 61%, peaking in October of this year.

In the 12 months leading up to October 2014, Ebola took 16th place for search terms, commanding 0.74% of search traffic and driving 821,000 desktop visits to the site.  Honing in on site traffic during peak month October, 6 out of 10 search terms were Ebola related. All search terms related to the disease were responsible for 42% of search traffic – a whopping 58 million desktop visits.

popular search terms CDC

It’s obvious from the top 20 search terms to cdc.gov during October 2014 that Ebola panic was driving most traffic to the site.

The WHO’s site performance mirrored that of the CDC. Who.int.com also saw a spike in traffic, with desktop visits cresting at over 18M in ‘peak panic month’ October.  The keywords “Ebola” and “Ebola virus” were the top two search terms driving traffic to the site, responsible for 14M visits. The keyword “Ebola” was responsible for 19.83% of traffic alone. Fact sheets on Ebola and the latest Ebola updates also topped the list of the most popular pages on the site.

who.int site traffic

Not surprisingly, Wikipedia is among the top referring sites for both the CDC and the WHO. Visits to Wikipedia’s page on Ebola accounted for 0.22% of all page visits since the beginning of the year – 264.2M desktop visits. In October traffic to the page increased sharply at 1.19%, with desktop visits reaching 123.9M for that month only.

Next to the CDC, the WHO and Wikipedia, media sites that covered the Ebola outbreak have also seen huge spikes in traffic.  We’ve compiled a list of news sites that have felt the most impact in terms of traffic:


Ebola is the 7th most popular keyword driving traffic to the site, accounting for 0.97% of all search traffic which is roughly 4.7M visits. CNN is also the 12th biggest referring site to the cdc.gov, and the #1 news site for referral traffic to the CDC.

The Washington Post

Ebola nearly topped the list, being the 2nd most popular keyword for the site and responsible for approximately 2.94 desktop visits, or 1.22% of all search traffic.

The New York Times

The search term Ebola has brought 1.42% of all search traffic to the popular news site, accounting for 6.25M visits.

The Wall Street Journal

Another reputable news source, the WSJ, has received nearly 1.4M desktop visits from the search term Ebola, which is the 5th most popular keyword driving traffic to the site.

The Guardian

Despite the fact that Ebola panic in Europe is decidedly less pronounced than in America, the topic is still a hot-button issue. UK news site The Guardian has received 3.1M desktop visits as a result of the Ebola scare, with Ebola being the 15th most popular keyword and responsible for 0.61% of all site traffic.


Ebola as a search term drove 1.76% of all search traffic to the site, and was the 3rd most popular search term following “Reuters” and “Ukraine.” The keyword was responsible for generating more than 3.4M desktop visits during the year.

Good News for the New Year

The New Year is often a time of hopeful idealism. In the past month traffic to sites like the CDC and the WHO has begun decreasing, and we would like to believe this translates into less widespread panic about the disease. Since recent reports do suggest that the Ebola outbreak is slowing down, we can only hope this is one search term trend that will disappear soon. In the spirit of optimism, here’s wishing for global health in 2015.

About the Author -

Lauren Meir is a writer and the Creative Content Manager at SimilarWeb. Her expertise lies in content marketing and creative branding. She has experience writing for a variety of industries including the art world and online gaming, and her work has appeared in publications such as the Huffington Post, Provokator and the Detroit Jewish News.

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