How readers engaged leading up to election night and beyond: Research update

Now that election night has come and gone, we wanted to take a fresh look at our audience data before, during, and after the results were tallied. Just as important, we wanted to see how these reader interactions compare to what we’ve previously seen during major global events.

More from our analysis below.

Traffic, engagement trends through the election

In this analysis, we looked at engagement data from more than 113,000 articles about the candidates from the last week of October through the week after election night.

Audience data shows more pageviews, Engaged Time for Trump

Pageviews followed a similar pattern to what we have seen in our previous analysis — articles primarily featuring President Donald Trump had significantly more pageviews before, during, and after the election.

Total pageviews began to rise as the election drew closer, peaking on election night and through Nov. 4. Pageviews started to decline as media outlets increasingly called the election for former Vice President Joseph Biden on Nov. 6 and 7.

The same could be said for Total Engaged Time. While both candidates saw steady increases in engagement before and during the election, it was Trump that still enjoyed a wide margin over Biden. 

The additional bump in engagement for Trump, which we began to see around the time the victor was declared, coincided with his claims regarding the legitimacy of the results.

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Stories primarily featuring Biden also saw a rise in engagement on Nov. 8, when multiple media networks called the election in his favor.

How does this compare with our recent election analysis?

Our initial research in mid-October yielded similar results: Trump maintains a large foothold in attention from readers, regardless of platform.

His Total Engaged Time totals were far higher than his democratic opponent. The clearest example of this was during his diagnosis of Covid-19, surpassing 30 million Total Engaged Minutes per day. Biden saw half of that engagement at his peak — reaching 15 million Total Engaged Minutes over the same timeframe.

Reader behaviors around the election aligned with other major events

We also wanted to see how readers interacted with the candidates via search and social media.

Pageviews from search climbed and peaked on election night at more than 40 million. Search traffic among audiences then declined after election night, seeing a small increase for Trump similar to our engagement data above when he began to contest the results.

Social traffic remained high following the event, only seeing significant declines after the victor was declared. 

This drop was more notable for Trump than Biden, who actually saw steady social traffic following the event. It may be worth noting that Trump was also uncharacteristically quiet in the days after the election.

How does this compare with our analyses from other major events?

These findings align with the behaviors we tend to see during major events — a rise in search before and during events, with a steady flow of social traffic in the aftermath. That said, this event was unique in that audiences readily sought information from both search and social leading up to the event, albeit less so for Biden than Trump.

The types of content that dominated readership

We also wanted to take another look at how content types* may have played a role in the engagement data we’ve discussed above.

* Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding

Content that we classified as short-form articles were the largest segment of the Top 50,  yet yielded lower engagement totals than live blogs, the second largest component. These were followed by longform pieces and infographic-heavy content.

Audiences found articles largely via search, our analysis shows. This finding is consistent with our past research, which shows that pageviews to factual “news you can use” types of content are largely driven by search. The other major source of traffic to these articles was classified as internal, or readers that discovered the content during their site visit.

Key takeaways from our election audience analysis

A few key takeaways from our latest analysis:

1. Our most recent findings remain consistent with what we’ve seen since the election began to heat up in October — Trump not only dominates the headlines, but our overall engagement metrics — by a wide margin over his counterpart Biden.

2. An analysis of referral traffic showed that the attention going to articles about Trump cut both ways. Traffic increases and declines across search and social media channels tended to be tied to his respective public comments and post-election silence.

3. Audience data showed that the most read content types — articles and live blogs — via search and directly from publisher sites, more so than social and other external sources. This was not a complete surprise – our previous research points to search as a major source of reader traffic before and during events.

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