It seems that, despite declining print circulations, the UK’s newspapers have managed to build up their online audiences. According to stats from Nielsen Online, the top ten newspaper sites have seen a 23% increase in traffic.

While this growth is partly down to the continuing growth of internet usage in the UK, one thing the top ten newspaper sites have in common is that they have all adapted well to the web, with most having redesigned their websites in the last year or so.

Newspapers like The Telegraph and TimesOnline, and especially The Guardian, adapted quite early to the internet, and this is reflected in the fact that they occupy the top three positions in the Nielsen stats (PDF), as well as three of the top four positions in the ABCe figures for October this year.

All three newspapers have also been busy revamping their websites; the Guardian with an ongoing process which looks to be almost complete now. TimesOnline spent £10m on a redesign last year, while adding reader’s blogs last year and unveiled a new look website in July this year.

Two of the biggest gainers in the Nielsen stats are newspapers which initially seemed slow to adapt to online readers; The Mirror and The Independent. Both have made big improvements to their websites this year though, and this seems to be reflected in the figures.

The Indy, which redesigned in February, and has since added reader’s blogs, increased its number of online users by 85% year on year, while increased traffic by 92% over the same period. It launched a revamped version of its site in July.

Online newspaper ad revenues are still not high enough to cover the drop in print ad spending, but newspapers are at least doing something right in doing more to attract and audience, and hence more ad income, online.

Another point worth noting here is the disparity between the Nielsen Online figures and those from ABCe, which gives an indication of the problem of relying on panel-based measurement as Nielsen and others do. Publishers have criticised such figures before, as they tend to underestimate online audiences, a problem when advertisers are basing their decisions on this data.

For instance, ABCe figures, taken from an independent audit, put The Guardian’s visitor numbers at 25.9m in October this year, while Nielsen Online gives the figure of 3.5m, which is a vast difference. The broad growth trends are similar in both but, even if factors like cookie deletion partly explain the problem, there is still a big disparity.