Capitalizing on readership during major news events

What do reader trends during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Brexit vote tell us about how audiences tend to consume content during major breaking news events?

While search, direct, and social traffic each play a part in audience building, it’s critical to understand when they’re most effectively used throughout event coverage to make sure your most engaging content reaches the widest audience.


While certain major news events require quick action in-the-moment, many others – such as political elections and sports events – can be planned for ahead of time. We know that the majority of referred traffic in the first few hours of an event will inevitably be coming from search, so concentrating on SEO and link strategies before planned news events begin is critical to maximizing traffic during the event. As we see below, during the U.S. presidential election, search traffic dominated leading up to and during the election, whereas social didn’t pick up until about 12 hours later.

Traffic patterns during elections

Key Takeaway: Capitalize on search. Post search-friendly content in advance so it has time to index on Google. Then, review your link strategies to ensure that any older content related to the topic of the day – which is bound to see new traffic as readers search for information on the same topic – will direct readers to your most recent updates as they become available.



Your most loyal readers will likely come to you directly once a story breaks or more details emerge and the majority of newer visitors will find your coverage amid a search results page, surrounded by your competitors.

Anything you can do to remind all users, new or loyal, to choose your site as their go-to for all of the facts during major news events is likely to reap rewards. Your direct visitors come to your site for a reason, so don’t compromise your voice and brand to try and gain more “new” traffic. You might even consider a new storytelling format, like a “live blog” approach, where you can continuously update the same article as new information becomes available. In fact, many of the most engaging stories of 2016 that covered high-profile events were these kinds of live and interactive experiences, including 538’s Live Election Forecast (below) which landed the number one spot.

528 Election Tracker

Key Takeaway: Know when to get creative. During sensitive breaking events like terror attacks or weather emergencies it’s best to stick to a hard factual approach, but during political events people tend to lean to unique storytelling in both angle and format.



Search traffic is incredibly important to harness before and during breaking news events, but keep in mind that social traffic picks up again in the aftermath as readers flock to social channels to share opinions and information. When we dig in further to these events, with multiple articles and angles covering the same topic, we find that what publishers write about and what audiences search for — and actually read — are completely different. As an example, we looked at the coverage and subsequent consumption of different story lines leading up to and following Brexit.

We see that the most successful stories on Facebook tend to have an emotional versus strictly informative lens. Only a few highly emotional topics, like “Regrets and anger about results,” received significant engagement via Facebook, and the more factual topics such as “What happens if UK votes to leave” received much more significant engagement via Google search.

Brexit Tope Stories Covered and Consumed

Key Takeaway: Understand the use of social. Because Facebook traffic is extremely concentrated, look for stories beginning to gain traction 12-24 hours after the event and double down on them the next morning is the likeliest route to success.

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