Hundreds of thousands of news stories appear in the online media every day. To give an example, in 2016 Buzzfeed published more than six thousand articles in one month alone. That’s a daily average of more than 200. But even that is nothing compared to the 1,200 articles circulated daily on the Washington Post’s website. These two examples should give you a hunch of just how much content journalists put out there every single day.
Some of these stories break out to catch the eye of millions of readers worldwide and change our understanding of the modern world and society, while some – rightly or wrongly – remain in the shadows of other breaking news.
At the end of the year, we decided to dig deep into depths of our networks’ data to discover which topics generated the most interest among readers in 2018.
From the world’s most controversial politicians and their acts, to things happening in the world’s most concerning warzones, to the sports events that captured everyone’s attention – there was no single topic that jumped out as the clear ‘winner’.
So, instead of one, here are 20 topics that grabbed the attention of readers within the network of news outlets that use Content Insights to understand their audience.
Our research has focused on articles published in English, German, and Spanish. We’ve analyzed over a million articles published in 2018, which together amassed a staggering 2.6 billion article reads.
An article read is not a page-view
Article reads is a metric that counts the number of times a real person opened an article, spent at least 10 seconds on it, and actually started consuming the content. It’s similar to page-views, but it’s not a basic browser event: it requires tab-in focus and human interaction with the page (e.g. mouse clicking, scrolling, etc.)
Out of all the topics we analyzed, the top 20 have got more than 219 million reads, with great results in audience engagement. The average Social Actions percentage was 8.42 percent, and the average Read Depth for Top 20 topics was at 38.3 percent.
Football, the ultimate eye catcher
Nothing, short of the start of a new World War could have beaten the World Cup in the media world this year. The world’s most anticipated football event proved to be the thing which really held readers’ attention.
Our ‘radar’ picked up more than 4,000 articles about World Cup held in Russia last summer. Those articles were read more than 30 million times, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story about the biggest sports event in the world.
Getting deeper into the numbers, we’re able to unpick how those stories are successful, not just if they are:
On average, people read almost half of the articles they opened. Using Read depth we calculated that World Cup stories on average scored just above 47 percent, which makes the ‘Read depth’ metric a gratifying one for publishers publishing on this topic to look at.
What is Read depth?
Read depth is a complex metric that unveils how deeply a visitor has got into reading a piece of content. It takes into consideration true attention time, length of the text, scroll-depth, and the average time it takes for a reader to consume the content. It analyzes only the article content on the page, disregarding all other elements.
Looking at Page depth brings more good news for publishers, since people who read stories on the subject of Mundial on average opened at least one more article (and to be precise 2.3 of them in total), which didn’t have to be related to the World Cup at all.
What is Page depth?
Page depth calculates the average number of pages visited after a reader opens the initial page, or article.
Answering the question of how enthusiastic readers were about the World Cup would not be possible without this fun fact: as many as eight percent of people who read articles about the World Cup made a social action on them. That means they either liked them, commented on them, or shared them on social media. The average for the Top 20 Topics was 8.42 percent, so this sits slightly under average.
Wondering what the story was that got most attention regarding World Cup? Well, that was the one about a kid who accompanied Lionel Messi onto the field for the match Argentina played against Iceland. The story behind the photograph which grabbed people’s attention was that Felipe Gerez Díaz, the youngster, and Messi, his idol, were pictured laughing together in the stadium tunnel, before the match started. The reason for smiles was the encouraging message the kid had for his idol before the kickoff.
Syrian conflict in the public scope
The Syrian conflict was one of the most widely reported topics around the world, and it also attracted enough readers to take the second place on this list. There were far fewer articles about it than ones about football, but together those 1,900 articles attracted just six million fewer readers than the ones about World Cup.
That said, news about Syria did not score as highly in terms of Read depth as stories about football did. Those stories had an average read depth of 37 percent, which is a whole 10 percent less than the ones about World Cup.
The war in Syria was already on the front pages when it came to world news in 2018, but despite the ongoing coverage, some stories still spread like a forest fire. According to our data, the story that got the most reads originated from a tweet coming from American president Donald Trump during a time of particularly high tension between Russia and USA over Syria. Trump had said on Twitter that Americans would fire rockets on Syria, warning the Russians that they shouldn’t be partnering with Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. This warning came just after the chemical attack in the Syrian city of Duma.
It seems like poison and chemical gas were the keywords that got most attention about Syria: the second most-read story was about the gas attack in the northern Syrian enclave of Arfin.
Donald Trump, a person of the year
Stories featuring Donald Trump as the main subject were read more than 21.5 millions times this year. That’s the highest number of stories that had a single person in their scope, according to the data we’ve collected.
In fact, if we were looking at the number of news outlets reporting on Trump, this topic would come in the first place.
Trump stories also rank highly when it comes to Page depth scores, or how far on the same website readers got after opening an article about Trump. The page depth score is slightly higher than it was the case with the World Cup at 2.34.
Trump stories, unlike the ones about the World Cup, have appeared throughout the whole year, and there’s not a single month without a Trump story garnering a huge amount of reads. The most-read stories about the American president were the ones featuring Cesar Sayoc, who was suspected of sending 12 pipe bombs to top Democrats and critics of Donald Trump, and who was revealed to be a Trump supporter. The second most-read story was about throwing out Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un impersonators from the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics held this year in South Korea. The third most-read piece about Trump was the one reporting that he canceled a visit to World War One memorial cemetery due to the rain.
Environment – raising concerns among a huge audience
This subject ranking so highly might come as a surprise to many, but the environment and the issues with preserving it were indeed topics both media and readers paid a lot of attention to in 2018. What really makes it stand out from the other Top 20 topics is that it has a very high Page depth rate of 2.4. This clearly shows that people who read about these topics wanted to know more, and on average opened almost two and a half further articles on the same website after reading the initial one.
Stories that got the most attention were the ones about so-called ‘dead zone’: a part of the Gulf of Oman where oxygen levels are depleted. It was followed by a story on how police break up demonstrators in Germany, and how harmful CO2 can be converted to gasoline.
Sex – a topic everyone wants to know more about
When it comes to sex, we appreciate our anonymity as readers. You might be asking how we know that, and the answer is stories about sex got read 14.5 million times, but guess what? The Social Actions Percentage was only 2.67 percent. That tells us one thing – we like to read about sex, but when it comes to sharing the articles we like with others, we’re just not that eager to do it. In terms of Read depth, topics about sex scored average in the TOP 20 section, with an average Read depth 40.5 percent.
The most read story on this topic was how to improve your sexual experience with a method called sounding. The second most read piece about sex was the announcement that male sex robots with bionic penises are coming on the market this year, while the third one was a story about best masturbation techniques.
Champions League – another football champion
With only 1,700 articles reported, the Champions League is a true champion when it comes to its popularity among audiences. It managed to garner 13 million article reads – just over half that the stories about Donald Trump had. But there were five times more stories about Trump than about the Champions League, which shows just how interested audiences were in the best European football.
Both the first and second most-read story about Champions League was about Liverpool’s star player, Mohamed Salah. Both were about his injuries. One was about his condition after the injury and the second one about people condemning Spanish international Sergio Ramos for having a smile on his face while Salah was leaving the pitch in pain.
The third most-read story was about the ingenious tactics Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel employed. All three have one thing in common because all three include Liverpool. Paris Saint-Germain match Tuchel won praise for his tactics in a win over Liverpool, which prevented them from being relegated to the first part of the league.
Russia – mighty military and political scandals
There was a lot of talk in the media about Russia this year. With a similar number of articles published to the ones about sex, the audience reading the stories about Russia was about 40 percent smaller compared to the audience reading about sex. Stories featuring Russia got just a little more than 10.8 million reads, but engagement was the thing to look at within this topic. The Social Actions Percentage here was a whopping 12.6 percent, with an average Read depth of a little more than 40 percent.
Russia as a topic might just be the one where we encountered the most diverse stories. The most read were about Russia developing new weapons, alongside the alleged Russian involvement in the Skripal case. When media talked about Skripal, they were also reporting thoroughly on the creation and the devastating power of the Novichok poison.
Lack of stories about possible Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections was not surprising since media have been talking about this for two years now, so it’s hardly breaking news.
Dog lovers love the news
Have the feeling that news about dogs is everywhere? Well, it’s not just in your head: we’ve got the data to prove it. Stories about dogs got reported 1,200 times in our network in the aforementioned languages and these pieces got read 10.2 million times. Stories about dogs were highly shareable too with their Social Actions Percentage at 10.17.
If you’re wondering what exactly dog stories are about, that’s a tough question to answer because they are so diverse, but some of the most-read ones feature stories of dogs as heroes, dogs that save lives, or police dogs. There are stories offering readers tips on how to train their dogs or how to handle their canine companions’ tempers.
Europe – politics, politics, and politics
These stories are not about Europe as the continent, they’re about European politics and the European Union. Some of them are about Brexit, which we analyzed below as a separate topic.
Data we’ve collected shows us stories about European Union were read just under 10 million times, but the real insight here is that people were very engaged with this type of content on social media. This topic scored 17.6 percent on the Social Actions Percentage, putting them in the top 3 of this list when it comes to the reader engagement on social media.
Let’s see which ones were able to attract most readers. The out and out victor, without any competition was a story about EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s serious health issues this summer. In the most-read section, we also find stories explaining relations between EU and China, and the one about Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz using an inappropriate political metaphor.
Migration – diametrically opposed stances
The European migration crisis is something the media has talked about since it first escalated in 2015. The fact that the European media have been reporting on this matter consistently over last three years, combined with the American president Donald Trump’s well-known stance on migration, as well as the late 2018 migration crisis in Central and North America, mean it’s no wonder migration is among our Top 20 topics for the year.
Our data shows that the number of stories published on this topic is drastically smaller than other topics so high on the list. However, those stories were read just over seven million times.
The most-read stories were about the German interior minister’s ill-judged thoughts on the matter. The Media reported the statement, given on his 69th birthday, which was coincidently the day when 69 refugees were deported to Kabul. He made a joke about the correlation that 69 people were sent to Afghanistan on his 69th birthday, which was, as he said, more than usual.
The following two stories were just as dark: one describing a situation when a worker from Sudan died falling from a roof while fleeing an immigration swoop, and the third about American president Donald Trump giving his opinion on migration in Germany and Europe, stating that they have made a “big mistake allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!”
Royals – another media wedding
The British Royal family got featured in news stories a lot this year. The main reason for that was, of course, the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle held during the Spring.
While the number of reported stories was not the highest, the Read depth of the stories was amazing, and in fact this topic tops the list when it comes to that, with a Read depth of 47.1 percent. Page depth for stories on this topic was also highest on this list. On average people opened a whopping 3.28 stories about the royals after getting their fill of those Royal nuptials.
When it comes to the stories themselves, the most read ones were about the wedding ceremony itself. The most attractive stories were – unsurprisingly – the ones that had photo galleries of the event to scroll through.
Drugs – a war against them and overdose problems
Drug problems were once again in sharp media focus this year. The number of stories reported is way fewer than for most of the other topics that made to this list, but stories about drugs managed to attract a lot of readers, with 700 stories being read more than six million times. The Social Actions Percentage for stories on drugs was higher than most of the other topics from the list, which was the case with those articles’ Read depths as well.
If you’re wondering what people read the most about within this topic, the answer isn’t just one thing, since both the ongoing war on drugs, news about former drug lords, and overdose problems in American communities all did similarly well with their audiences.
Still, there were notable topics which garnered particular attention. The Philippine’s president Rodrigo Duterte and his controversial war on drugs was one such example. Stories covering drug abuse in American communities were also among the most read. One story got special attention from people globally and was reported by many media outlets. That was the news about finding a submarine which Pablo Escobar used to smuggle drugs years ago. That was not all to the story since a rumor that it might be carrying 50 billion U.S. dollars that belonged to Escobar was firing up readers too…
Sexual harassment – we’ve talked a lot about it
Many sex scandals were in the public eye this year, and the ‘Me Too’ movement – which started in late 2017 – probably continues to explain the reason for more than 2.5 million people reading stories about sexual harassment in 2018 as well. While these stories don’t even come close to the ones that only talk about sex, they were more way more shareable, with a Social Actions Percentage of 4.2. Still, it seems that readers were not as engaged with them, because Read depth on average showed only 26.7 percent.
The most-read stories were about various actors and TV celebrities being accused of sexual harassment, but it wasn’t only about Hollywood celebrities. Many stories featured sportsman as well, while some of the most read ones revealed how people sexually abuse animals.
Brexit, still an interesting topic
Even though the British decided to step out of the European Union in June 2016, Brexit remains firmly in the media’s scope in 2018. As opposed to stories outlining whether or not the UK should leave the EU, stories published in 2018 actually covered more of a ‘how to’ side of Brexit, as the deadline for exit looms ever nearer.
The most-read stories here tended to explain what will happen to the Customs system after leaving the EU, and what will happen with the single market. Some of the pieces that were among the most read also talked about the possibility of not leaving EU or even telling Britons that they shouldn’t be anxious about leaving the EU. In terms of numbers, Brexit articles were published more than 1,000 times, but they were accompanied by a poor read depth rate of only 30.9 percent.
American football – oh yes, it’s about the Super Bowl
What says American football more than the Super Bowl? Well, stories about the Super Bowl actually: the culmination of the whole NFL season and an event that really excites its audience.
It’s not all about scores and plays though: the Super Bowl always features celebrities who appear in the halftime break. This year it was Justin Timberlake whose performance was featured as the most read story. But people wanting to read about [American] Football were not only reading about the Super Bowl: there were some stories reporting on college football which the audience went crazy about.
When it comes to numbers it’s noticeable that football was the topic everyone was writing about: it was covered five times more than articles about Brexit, but got 50 percent fewer reads. Still, the stories scored well in terms of Read depth, with an average of 44 percent.
Facebook – controversies kept it in the news
The world’s largest social network was a subject of some the most read stories online this year. There’s more than few causes for that.
After the data breach and the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the media reported a lot on the case. The story about the raid on the CA headquarters was one of the most read stories about Facebook within our network, followed by stories on the ‘Delete Facebook’ campaign which came thereafter. Among other popular stories within this topic, were the so-called How-To types, with the one about how to learn who has unfriended you leading the pack.
Our data show Facebook stories got read more than 4.3 million times. We can’t talk social without the social though, and there’s definitely an insight here. Stories about Facebook got a high rating on Social Actions Percentage, which scored 13.1 percent.
Thousands of stories for NBA fans
NBA season and especially events related to the NBA stars of the season were a real eye catcher in 2018. Stories about the world’s best basketball league didn’t come close to the World Cup in terms of the number of people reading but, these stories scored highly when it came to reader engagement and in fact ranked second on this list in Page depth, which averaged at 2.43. Stories about NBA got very similar numbers to stories about the World Cup when it came to Social Actions Percentage.
Interestingly, some of the most-read stories in this topic were not about basketball at all. The best example for that was a piece about Marc Gasol, the Spanish international who plays in the NBA, and who spent his vacation on a rescue boat in Mediterranean saving lives. He helped rescue crews to save refugees from drowning.
Another example of a very well read story not related to the season itself was the one questioning what will happen with basketball legend Dirk Nowitzki who turned 40 this year. Will Nowitzki, who is still an active player, retire? Clearly, it was something worth devoting [digital] column inches to…
North Korea is not all about the nukes
A similar number of articles gets us to the other side of the world and to North Korea. And, surprisingly, not all of them were about politics or its controversial leader, Kim Jong Un. These articles performed poorly on Read depth, scoring only 22 percent. The same happened with the Social Actions Percentage: only every 99th reader of an article on North Korea decided to engage with it on social media.
What’s interesting is that readers were very eager to jump to other articles from those first read. Page depth was second highest of all Top 20 topics for articles about North Korea – it stopped at three articles read on average.
Believe it or not, the conflict Kim Jong Un had with most of the Western leaders wasn’t among the most-read news stories within this topic. It wasn’t even all about nuclear threats and the possible location for the start of a third World War.
In fact, the story with most readers was the one that the North Korean nuclear test site had collapsed, though the two next best-performing were quite different.
The second most-read one was about the North Korean cheerleading squad in the Winter Olympics, held in neighboring South Korea this year. The story said that the squad who had charmed Olympics viewers were actually forced into sex slavery by country’s top politicians. The third most read story, however, was about the Korean first lady, who has a become a hit on social networks in China for being particularly fashionable.
Senate – an important topic around the world
Another political topic made the list. The main reason – as you might suspect – was that Americans held their mid-term elections this year. And while that was true and contributed to the content of lots of articles in this topic, senates in other countries were similarly well reported upon.
Stories on Senate-related issues comes last in volume, with stories in this section being read 1.35 million times. The thing that sets it apart from the bunch is that it has the highest Social Actions Percentage out of all the topics – above 30 percent – which shows just how much people were engaged in news about new laws and political races.
Among the most read news were the ones about the US Senate elections. News about Senate hearings and the controversial decisions various Senates around the world made also featured highly.
Putin – another four years on the Russian throne
Oh yes, the Russian president is on this list, and it’s probably due to the fact that Russia held presidential elections this year, which Putin won again.
Interestingly, this topic yielded the fewest articles among all topics on our list, but despite this had a significant readership with its 200 articles being read 1.8 million times. Among the top stories was the one showing alleged election fraud when officials allegedly filled ballot boxes.
Another popular story was an in-depth profile piece on Putin that went out before the elections. Stories like the one discussing the possibility that Russia cut off the UK’s gas supply were also popular among readers.
It wouldn’t be fair to conclude this article without mentioning some other people who were in the media scope this year, but didn’t quite made it to the Top 20 list.
It might come as a surprise, but tennis players got a lot of coverage. People were reading most about Roger Federer, and he was followed by Juan Martin Del Potro and Rafael Nadal.
Football players were also among the main actors in many stories, with people reading most about Cristiano Ronaldo. The second place belongs to Lionel Messi.
Stories featuring football clubs got lots of attention too. Barcelona and Juventus were the two best-placed clubs with most people reading about them.
So there we have it. What will next year’s report reveal? We look forward to finding out, and in the meantime – from our team to yours – happy holidays!
If you want to know more about the way our editorial intelligence software works, feel free to get in touch with us.