Measuring audience attention and interactions across the world: Third quarter 2020

The past three months of measuring audience attention and engagement data has proven to be as unpredictable as 2020, evidenced by the fluctuations we’re seeing across traffic and reader engagement metrics. While search and social referral traffic stayed consistent with trends we saw in Q2, the third quarter showed variations in Engaged Time and Loyalty metrics across regions that have been largely static in past quarters.

Below, we analyze our most recent findings and what it means for content creators.

Compare to our previous insights | Q2 2020 | Q1 2020

Africa eclipses LATAM region in Engaged Time

Engaged Time among audiences across Africa surpassed Latin America for the first time in several quarters, according to our analysis. This is not completely unexpected, as last quarter’s findings showed that readers in Africa were increasingly engaging with content for longer periods quarter over quarter.

Readers in Latin America still averaged 34.6 seconds of Engaged Time this past quarter, continuing to be among the most engaged regions in the world.

Engagement among some European regions continued its decline quarter over quarter, with Central and Eastern European readers averaging 27.6  seconds of Engaged Time (versus 28.8 seconds) and Northern European audiences at 26.6 seconds (down from 29.3 seconds).

Overall, reader attention remains at an all-time high across the world, which we’ve attributed in part to global audiences being gripped  by the global pandemic.

Mobile device referral traffic flat across the board

Despite a growing mobile-first landscape, referrals driven from those devices remained static across the world. Still, 86% of readers in Central Asia and 83% in Africa receiving content via mobile devices continues to be notable, as it has been sustained over several quarters.


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Across the board, much of our global network saw more modest increases in the 1% to 2% range compared to the second quarter.

Search engine referral metrics remain steady

Audiences in Central Asia continue to drive the most referrals from search, with 37% of pageviews coming from these sources. Readers in the Middle East drove the second most referrals, seeing those rise to 31% this quarter from 29% in Q2.

Social media referral traffic dips down

Social media referral traffic saw drops this past quarter in what could be the beginnings of a retraction from the highs we saw during the early months of the pandemic. Southeast Asia saw the most notable drop, to 24% from 32%, over the past quarter. 

Across the rest of the world, we saw single-digit declines or remained static during Q3.

Reader loyalty ticks up in North America, flat elsewhere

Audiences across North America increasingly fell into the loyal reader* category, punctuated by a 3% growth over the past quarter, from 27% to 30%. 

That said, readers in Europe continue to dominate the loyalty landscape, driving the most pageviews from those audiences. Readers in Northern Europe classified 48% of its audience as loyal, while loyal readers comprised 41% of readership for both Central/Eastern and Southern Europe.

These figures, as is the case across the rest of the regions we analyzed this past quarter, are all up or flat compared to our second quarter analysis.

*A loyal reader is someone who returns to your site in at least 50% of days in a two-week period.

Global audience engagement: Takeaways from our third quarter analysis

Quick takeaways from our third quarter analysis:

Loyalty ticks back up

Publishers have increasingly invested in growing loyal readership. While acquisition remains a priority, we may also be seeing the result of an increased emphasis on retaining audiences and understanding the interactions that encourage return visits.

These findings contrast our data in the second quarter, as higher engagement and lower loyalty were among our key takeaways, so we’ll continue to keep a close eye on any further fluctuations and how they compare with long-term readership trends.

Social referrals dip

We saw a slight retraction across social referrals across our global network, which fell for the first time in several quarters. That said, pageviews driven by social media have still seen strong growth in 2020, notably led by Facebook and Twitter.

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Related: What does post-pandemic social media look like? An analysis of audience trends

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Since the declines this past quarter don’t reflect the overall growth in 2020, we’ll continue to evaluate the data as we begin the final quarter of the year. However, with upcoming U.S. elections on the horizon, we can reasonably anticipate a higher-than-normal traffic to digital publishers, as was the case in 2016.


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