The 3 topics that caught our attention this past year: Analysis & findings

News consumption reached unforeseen highs in 2020, but it was three topics — Covid-19, protests and social movements, and the U.S. election — that drew outsized attention from audiences.

Below, we revisit a snapshot in time across those topics — along with their traffic and engagement data — to understand how readers interacted with content during these major events. 

How audiences interacted with Covid-19 content

We began by analyzing arguably the most important topic of the year — the pandemic. First, we looked at the total number of stories readers engaged with each week that were related to Covid-19. 

We saw a huge increase in articles in early to mid-March as the virus began to spread through the world. The number of articles declined by about 30% through the summer, as shown above, and the numbers have mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels to date.

When looking at  the volume of traffic to pandemic-related stories, however, we saw a stark contrast. While traffic also peaked in March, it declined more than 80% from its peak through the summer. Engagement per story fell by more than half, reflecting the Covid-19 fatigue that we have noted, along with many others around the world.

That said, engagement per pageview has remained constant — readers are visiting pandemic stories far less often, but their engagement levels have remained high, as we see below. 

Social movements and their impact on traffic and engagement

Another topic that garnered huge attention was the outcry over racial injustice sparked by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

To understand the impact on readership, we honed in on traffic to a narrow set of stories related to police killings of Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Daniel Prude. From a coverage perspective, we saw almost no coverage of these topics until a huge spike in stories soon after George Floyd’s murder.

Audience engagement closely mirrored this trend, with readers paying more attention as coverage increased following George Floyd’s death. 

How the election engaged readers in 2020

Finally, we looked at the 2020 election. While we’ve more recently delved deeper into engagement per candidate, for this snapshot analysis we focused on traffic to articles that mentioned the terms “campaign” or “election” in their text.

Pageviews for U.S. election-related content decreased stateside during the early days of Covid-19’s spread in North America and spiked in late August around the time of the Democratic and Republican conventions, as shown above. As expected, we see a huge spike in the first week of November. 

There was a corresponding spike in the proportion of pageviews coming from search for that period, 45% compared to approximately 28% for the rest of the year, suggesting that readers were actively searching for election results. Interestingly, the Average Engaged Time for election-related content was about 53 seconds, almost double the average across all content.

Takeaways: What do these reader patterns tell us? 

While different in subject matter, the topics that captivated readers this past year had much in common, including:

  • They were discoverable. This was a nod to publishers that optimized for the search behaviors of audiences during past major events.
  • They focused on engagement. Yes, pandemic content fatigue among readers showed itself through traffic data, but not the time spent engaging with it.
  • National topics, global audiences. The global reach across these three topics reaffirmed the importance of considering how regional content can attract and engage new audiences.

We believe this data also gives publishers another glimpse into reader behaviors — and how to build a long-term strategy around them — well before the next major event comes into focus.

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