Reader traffic and engagement in 2020: By the numbers

We saw significant fluctuations in reader traffic and Engaged Time across our global network in 2020, unsurprising in a year when readers turned to media sites for timely information on Covid-19, struggled with news fatigue, and couldn’t keep their eyes off of the U.S. elections.

As the year closes, we wanted to revisit our global engagement data from 2020 as we head into a new year. This article will focus on traffic and device trends, while future pieces will detail our findings across platforms.

More from our research below.

Audience engagement in 2020: The big picture

We began by analyzing overall engagement, or the total amount of time readers spend on media sites, relative to the beginning of the year. Below is a breakdown down by four regions: Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Latin America, and North America.

This graph shows how engagement rose dramatically with the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Traffic in Europe peaked slightly earlier, in early March as the virus spread rapidly, with other regions peaking a couple of weeks later.

How readers spent time engaging with content

We also wanted to analyze how long readers spend on individual articles. Surprisingly, we didn’t see a directional change in Average Engaged Time per pageview, which remained steady at around 31 seconds. 

That said, we did see major regional differences. Readers in Latin America and North America spend anywhere from 15-20% more time per pageview than audiences in Europe and Asia. Those findings remain consistent with what we saw during our quarterly snapshots of global audience engagement.

Going further, we also looked at the typical length of articles published in each region. 

Interestingly, sites in Latin America tend to publish articles with fewer words on average, yet have the highest Average Engaged Time at 34.3 seconds. In contrast, sites in the Asia-Pacific region have articles with the highest number of words, yet the shortest Average Engaged Time at 28.8 seconds. Sites in North America and Europe fell somewhere in between, as we see above.

Why does Engaged Time matter?

We’ve found that 45% of readers who load an article will leave within the first 15 seconds, and more than 60% will not return. The good news is that readers who spend more than a minute reading content will not only recall more of its facts compared to those who spend less than 15 seconds, but tend to recirculate deeper into your site.

Reader interactions by device in 2020

Next, we wanted to understand where readers are engaging. With so much of the world working from home, we could hypothesize there’d be a dramatic shift in the ratio of desktop to mobile traffic. Here’s what we found.

In 2020, we actually saw only a slight decline in traffic to desktop as a percentage of total traffic, in contrast to the steep declines we have seen in previous years. So, while desktop traffic continued to decline, its pace suggests that more readers were using those devices as they settled into their new normal.

For instance, North American pageviews taking place on desktop fell to about 29% from 32%. In contrast, we saw a larger decrease in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. 

Reader traffic and engagement in 2020: Key takeaways

So, how does this data confirm or challenge assumptions global publishers had about their audiences in 2020? A few takeaways:

1. While the media experienced a huge spike at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, most publications are back to pre-pandemic traffic levels.

2. Asian and Latin American publishers sustained elevated traffic levels for significantly longer than North American and European publishers did. Publishers in those regions may not be surprised, as that growth was trending upwards quarter-over-quarter throughout the year.

3. The pandemic and its associated lockdowns had a minimal effect on the overall desktop/mobile mix around the world. One notable exception would be Asia, where we saw a temporary drop in desktop traffic from 26% to 22% during the height of the pandemic, followed by a rebound more recently. These findings make sense when thinking about our quarterly snapshots in 2020, which have shown an increasingly mobile readership across Asia.

Be the first to see our newest data — sign up to receive updates when new blog posts are published.

More in Research