Device and platform data trends in 2020: Our analysis

After analyzing reader traffic data from this past year, our Data Science team next wanted to understand the impact of devices and platforms on audience engagement in 2020.

More from our research below.

Device-based readership in 2020

First, we looked at whether there’d been a dramatic shift in the ratio of desktop to mobile traffic, particularly as more individuals transitioned to working from home from offices.

Here’s what the device data told us:

1. In 2020, we saw 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.

2. In North America, traffic dropped from 32% of pageviews taking place on desktop to about 29% of pageviews. A larger decrease was seen in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, as the graph below shows.

Additionally, Covid-19 and its resulting lockdowns didn’t appear to affect the desktop/mobile mix across the world. One exception was Asia, shown as the blue line in the graph above. Across Asia, we saw a drop in desktop traffic from 26% to 22% during the height of the pandemic, followed by a rebound as we approached the last quarter of the year.

Those findings are not surprising when compared to the quarterly trends we saw in 2020, as. audiences throughout Asia consistently ranked among highest in traffic referred by mobile devices. For example, 86% of pageviews in Central Asia were referred by mobile devices, according to our third quarter analysis.

The data suggests that the rise in mobile traffic, while still exceeding desktop, slowed in 2020. While there’s no single explanation for the slowdown, the sudden changes to your work commute (or lack thereof) may have been a contributing factor.

How major platforms drove traffic in 2020

When we analyzed platform-based referral data, Google and Facebook continued to dominate the landscape.

In 2020, we saw traffic return to pre-pandemic levels after sizable spikes during the initial two months of the Covid-19 crisis. Of the two platforms, we found that Facebook’s traffic declined at a faster pace than Google. 

In contrast to previous years, the platform data showed us that the landscape was relatively stable.

The role of news aggregators in referral traffic

News aggregators also saw changes in traffic throughout 2020. Among the aggregators we analyzed, Newsbreak saw the largest gains, followed by SmartNews. In contrast, TopBuzz and Upday saw the greatest declines in traffic. Google News, similar to the company’s other properties such as Google Chrome Suggestions, continued to grow significantly as it has in previous years.

Last year, we highlighted the growth of mobile-first aggregators, which included some of the names above, along with Yahoo! and Flipboard. That said, we’ll continue to analyze their long-term impact on referral traffic.

Readership across devices and platforms: Key data takeaways

Here’s what our analysis told us about the device- and platform-based trends we saw in 2020:

1. Overall, the platform and mobile/desktop landscape has been more stable than in years past.

2. When broken down by region, one notable fluctuation in the desktop/mobile mix occurred in Asia, which then returned to normal towards the end of the year.

3. Like much of our prior research, the pandemic has impacted device-based traffic, notably the slowdown of mobile growth that we’ve observed in past research.

4. Google and Facebook continued their dominance in platform-based referrals. Facebook’s decline throughout the year was slightly faster than Google’s.

5. An increasing number of news aggregators have emerged and continue to drive traffic to sites. This indicates a growing opportunity for publishers.

While 2020 included a great deal of traffic anomalies, trends among the major platforms remained fairly consistent with what we’ve seen in past years. That said, we’ll continue to monitor trends and the impact of major events throughout the new year.

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