2016 US Election Traffic: What to Expect and How to Maximize It

November 7th, 2016 by Josh

Tomorrow’s US elections will bring an unprecedented amount of web traffic to news sites. At Chartbeat, we’re predicting the total volume of readership we measure across the web (including non-news sites) to be close to 20-25 million concurrents, roughly double that of a typical day’s 13 million, with a selection of sites up in traffic by factors of 10 or more. This increase in overall traffic represents a huge opportunity for audience building, with news sites seeing large increases in new visitors. But how?

 

Turning election interest into readership

Election days aren’t regular news days by any means. Traffic patterns during an event like the elections are quite different from the norm. In fact, it is important to note that according to our research, search and direct traffic are initially critical to audience building during major breaking news events, followed by social.

When we think about traffic in general, we tend to think about social traffic first — due to the fact that the top referrer to any major news article is likely to be Facebook. But, because Facebook traffic about a particular article tends to have a significant ramp up period, reader behavior is quite different during breaking news events. For example, during the Paris attacks in late 2015, Google traffic to The Atlantic’s What ISIS Really Wants spiked 12 hours before Facebook traffic reached its peak.

minute-by-minute-traffic-paris-attacks

In fact, during the 2012 US elections, search and direct traffic vastly outweighed social traffic, and events like the Brexit vote in the UK demonstrated the same pattern more recently. That means that concentrating on these two areas — search and direct traffic — is critical for news sites hoping to maximize their traffic on election night.

 

Capitalizing on search traffic

For search, that means — perhaps obviously — that the sites topping the Google rankings for terms like “election map” and “elections results” will have search traffic climbing to millions of concurrents. Additionally, search engine optimization around key terms has the potential for massive returns.

Although traffic will be highest for google.com, we should expect readership spikes on the magnitude of 100,000+ concurrents for search traffic from many non-US countries as well, so search placement in google.fr, google.de, google.com.au, google.co.uk, google.es, and others is also critically important.

 

Maximizing direct traffic

Garnering an increasing share of direct traffic is by no means easy, but the sites that people tune into for election coverage will likely crack into the millions of concurrents. Therefore, anything you can do to remind your users to choose your site as their go-to for the evening is likely to reap rewards. Critically, and unlike during “traditional” breaking news topics like weather and terrorism where visitors value hard factual sites the most, we typically see that during major elections there’s a bias in traffic toward sites with a unique angle.

 

Following through on social traffic from Facebook

We often see that the most successful stories on Facebook have an emotional versus strictly informative lens. For example, during the Brexit vote, only a few highly emotional topics received significant Facebook traffic.

 

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Because Facebook traffic is extremely concentrated, looking for stories beginning to gain traction late Tuesday night and doubling down on them on Wednesday morning is the likeliest route to success.

As for social traffic, we can expect Facebook to become the dominant traffic driver on Wednesday morning, following the election results.

There’s much that remains to be seen about traffic on Tuesday night — will more prominent data directly on Google search results pages hurt traffic? Which sites will end up with the coveted top search positions? Will traffic peak early in the evening or continue on late into the night? And how will Facebook amplify traffic?

I’ll be live tweeting patterns as they emerge at @joshuadschwartz and we’ll be following up with more in-depth analyses in the days after the election. Feel free to reach out!

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