Reader loyalty, search traffic climbs to end year: Fourth quarter analysis

The year ended much like it began — with reader engagement highest in Latin America and the strongest reader loyalty in Europe, according to our last audience analysis of 2020. What we could not have accounted for was the impact of two major stories — Covid-19 and the 2020 U.S. presidential election — on a year’s worth of engagement data across the world.

Below, our fourth quarter research and findings across engagement, platforms and devices.

Compare to our previous insights Q3 2020 | Q2 2020 | Q1 2020

Latin America tops Engaged Time to end 2020

Audiences across Latin America engaged with content for an average of 34.4 seconds, followed by readers throughout Africa and the Middle East (33.7 and 32.2 seconds, respectively). This echoes a majority of what we saw in 2020, with the exception of the third quarter, where readers across Africa topped engaged readership.

Readers in Asia made up a majority of the middle ground in Engaged Time, hovering between 30 seconds (APAC region) and 32 seconds (Southeast Asia).

Central and Eastern European readers remained on the lower end of engagement, averaging 28.1 seconds of Engaged Time (a slight uptick from 27.6 seconds last quarter), while Northern European Engaged Time remained flat 26.8 seconds (versus 26.6 seconds last quarter).

Mobile referrals static to end the year

Even as readers are arguably spending more time in front of their desktops, mobile traffic referrals remain high, albeit static, as the year ends. 

Similar to last quarter, 86% of readers in Central Asia and 82% in Africa (down 1% from last quarter) are discovering content via mobile devices, which has been sustained over several quarters, despite the significant changes to our lives this past year.

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Across the board, much of our global network saw slight fluctuations of 1% to 2% compared to our third quarter analysis.

Search referrals see rise since last quarter

Search referrals were up across the world compared to last quarter, a continuation of the pandemic’s impact on global readership. Audiences in Central Asia drove 40% of pageviews (up from 37%), while readers in the Middle East continued to drive the second most referrals at 33%, seeing those continue to rise (31% in Q3 and 29% in Q2).

Search traffic was also up in many other regions, including Southeast Asia, which rose to 33%, up from 30% in the third quarter.

Social referrals decline for consecutive quarters 

In contrast, social media referral traffic continued to see declines quarter over quarter. Southeast Asia, down to 23%, did not fall as sharply compared to the past quarter’s drop to 24% from 32%.

Across the rest of the world, social referrals saw single-digit declines or remained flat for the quarter.

Reader loyalty sees increases to close out the year

Audiences across the world increasingly fell into the loyal reader* category, seeing 2% to 3% increases since the third quarter.

North American readers continued their uphill climb in loyalty, increasing to 32% from 30% in Q3, while the remainder of the regions we tracked saw modest gains of 1% to 2%.

Europe closed out the year on top in terms of share of pageviews from loyal readers, continuing the trends we saw throughout 2020. Sites in Northern Europe classified 49% of their audience referrals as loyal (up from 48% in Q3). Similarly, 42% of readers in Central/Eastern Europe (up 1%)  and 40% in Southern Europe (down 1%) rounded out the top three in traffic from loyal audiences.

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

Global audience metrics: Takeaways from our fourth quarter analysis

Some takeaways from our final quarterly analysis of 2020:

Search, social traffic see fluctuations to end the year

Our past data focusing on reader behaviors before, during, and after major events and the data we’ve analyzed around Covid-19 and election traffic suggests that their influence continued into the last quarter of the year. 

Global publishers saw increased traffic to their content across the board, as readers looked to search engines for the latest information, echoing our recent platform research on the enduring strength of Google search referrals in 2020. The gains in search traffic may well have come at the expense of social media referrals, which saw steady declines beginning in the second half of the year.

Reader loyalty sees a steady rise to close 2020

Our data suggests that publishers employing loyalty-building tactics have started to see them pay off in the latter half of 2020. The last two quarters of the year saw increases in loyal readership across the world, buoyed by strong Engaged Time.

While our analyses throughout 2020 have focused on the slight quarterly shifts in engagement, our data shows that Engaged Time in excess of 15 seconds is still notable for publishers. It also increases the likelihood of return readership, as visitors cross that engagement threshold and recirculate into other content, forging a clearer path to loyalty.

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