Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
10 mins read

The 10 topics that kept people most engaged last year

A couple of weeks ago we decided to visit our data bunker and collaborate with our merry band of data geeks on a piece that will help us review 2019 from a specific angle: engagement.

Once again, we wanted to discover which topics generated the most interest among readers during these last 12 months.

To do so, we needed to analyze a vast amount of data collected from dozens of domains across our network. 

Alongside Bojana, our wonderful Data Analyst, we developed a game plan: we decided to single out 16 of our biggest client domains and view their most popular topics through the lens of our engagement metrics. 

We analyzed domains that published in 7 different languages, which generated a whopping 26,975,699,414 article reads from 3,944,599 articles in the above-mentioned time period. 

What we learned while digging through the data is that a lot has changed in the space of a year. Some topics that we expected would cause the biggest spikes in reader interest have shockingly underperformed. Others that we thought would perform okay-ish have proven to be a lot more engaging. 

So, without further ado, let’s analyze the topics that triggered the most reader engagement in 2019.

1. Sports

Sports absolutely dominated 2019. With over 1,789,820,522 article reads, generated from 161,545 posts, with 59 seconds of Average Attention Time and 1.9 Page Depth – sports crushed it when it comes to reader engagement. 

As expected, football (and to be clear, that’s soccer to our North American friends) was at the center of it all. Even though basketball and tennis were also passionately read and followed in the media, football was the most engaging sports topic by far. Stories that generated the most reader interest under this topic were those about the Premier League. There was a lot of talk about the transfers that happened before the start of this season. People kept reading where specific players went and for how much money. 

Even though Manchester United hasn’t performed on the pitch as well as it has done in the past, people still kept reading about the club that is (currently led by its former celebrated striker, Ole Gunnar Solskjær).

Of course, as expected, Lionel Messi was also quite popular in the news last year. In our network, we saw 904 articles about Messi that generated a 54,346,780 article reads. Apart from winning the prestigious Ballon d’Or for the sixth time (the most in history), he also managed to score 50 goals in a season for the sixth consecutive time. This was definitely Messi’s year and people absolutely adored reading about his record-breaking achievements.

2. Arts and Entertainment

This one was a bit of a surprise. With 1,179,097,483 article reads, generated from 156,539 posts, accompanied by an impressive 64 seconds of Average Attention Time and 1.71 Page Depth – the Arts and Entertainment topic came out of nowhere and took the second place on our reader engagement list. 

Even though we’re certainly pleased that people were interested in feelgood stories about a nine-year-old boy who was once told not to doodle in class, but now has a job decorating restaurants with his drawings – this is still a pretty unexpected turnout. 

Before we started working with this study, we thought that the first or the second place on our most engaging topics list would definitely go to politics or economics. However, that has turned out not to be the case.

It’s important to remember that 2019 was the year of the Notre Dame fire. If you read our story about the burning of Notre Dame, you’re probably aware of the extent to which people felt the weight of the incident that occurred on April 15. They were pretty vocal about it on social media and they kept passionately following the topic until they were certain that the restoration of the famous church was on its way and in good hands.

In addition to Notre Dame, the Arts and Entertainment topic got a lot of engagement from various art exhibitions and festivals that were happening during the course of these last twelve months. People were excited to read about the latest art events that were happening in their neighborhood and across the globe. 

Apart from this, what really surprised us here was readers’ fascination with NBC’s series “This is Us”. The show is in its fourth season and people are still ridiculously engaged with it. Even in the media. During these last 12 months, we have seen 8,621 articles about this show in our network on 9 different domains, and they generated an impressive 86,967,357 article reads. It looks like people don’t only follow the show with great passion: they also turn to their favorite news portals and magazines to consume as much content as possible on the famous Pearson family.

3. Crime

As expected, crime has been a big topic in 2019. With over 1,156,349,180 article reads, generated from 104,877 articles, an Average Attention Time of 68 seconds and impressive Page Depth of 2.02 – stories that talked about shocking attacks in the UK, police brutality, and terrorist attacks on New Zealand really kept people glued to their screens. 

The higher Page Depth suggests that the readers were interested to stay for at least two additional stories on average. Most probably, people kept following the same topic for two reasons:

  • Some people fear their surroundings and are highly interested in knowing the darker side of their direct and indirect neighborhood. 
  • Others just want to get to the bottom of things and learn the whole truth of specific crimes that provoke their interest.

Be it as it may, crime, scandals, and massive arrests were always greatly read topics in the news.

4.  Politics

With 718,528,934 article reads, generated from 93,148 articles, with a 74 second of average attention time and 2.01 Page Depth – politics takes the fourth place on our most engaging topics of the year list. 

As expected, The UK election was the topic that engaged the biggest number of readers in our network who have an interest in politics. The whopping 124,910,660 article reads, generated from 19,633 articles, showed that people were really invested in the political scene in the UK and who will win the elections. This is because different parties had contrary views on Brexit. Whether the UK will or will not remain part of the European Union directly depended on the party that emerged victorious from the polls. Since Boris Johnson and the conservatives took the victory, what’s going to happen with Brexit is now clear as daylight.

Second to the UK elections was Donald Trump. The US president is a master of generating column inches. Once again, thanks to his Twitter activity and all the outrageous things he shares on that platform, Trump remained in the spotlight. With 29,694,276 article reads, generated from the 5,112 articles, with 71 seconds of average attention time, and 52% of Read Depth –  we have concrete proof that Trump’s strategy still works.

However, Trump wasn’t the only president making headlines in 2019 and provoking significant reader engagement. Nicolás MaduroMauricio MacriAlberto FernándezVladimir PutinKim Jong-unEmmanuel Macron – these are just some of the presidents that were frequently seen in the news across the year.

The mention of Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández alone proves that the switch of power that happened in the Argentinian presidential office was a huge moment in 2019. Mr. Fernández has vowed to play things safe financially, but some voters fear that under his administration Argentina could return to the populist policies that helped push the country to its current state.  Mr. Fernández has assumed the presidency in the first quarter of this December, so we guess we will see if he will be able to lead his country out of the crisis.

While we’re still on the topic of politics in Argentina, it’s important to add that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was also decently followed by readers in the press. For many, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is a modern-day Eva Perón – a woman who has supported the poor with social programs. Her siding with the Centre-left clearly helped to propel Mr. Fernández to the top. 

5. Economy


With 684,933,431 article reads, generated from 128,619 articles, with 63 seconds of average attention time, and 1.96 Page Depth – economy takes fifth place on our list. 

Apart from the story about the sixteen-year-old boy who thought himself to become a trader, the most engaging economic topic in our network was about the failure of the Deutsche and Bayer banks 

However, these are not the only two German companies with rich histories that are currently fighting for survival. 

Several DAX companies are on the brink of existence as well. 

One surprising development in 2019 was the return to a period of falling interest rates. However, analysts warn that zero or negative interest rates will do “tremendous damage” to the economy in the long run, so it’s best to stay with this topic in 2020 and look for possible red flags.

6. Health and Fitness

According to the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), the health and fitness industry has been growing by 3 – 4% every year, over the course of the last ten years, and it is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Our data confirms this. With 156,220,374 article reads, generated from 24,321 articles, with 57 seconds of average attention time, and 1.79 Page Depth – health and fitness has once again provoked a lot of reader interest and engagement.

Readers were once again obsessed about topics that explained how to eat healthy and diet successfully. 

In addition to this, mental health was also a big topic in 2019. Publishers put a lot of effort into the promotion of mental well-being and the explanation of mental and behavioral disorders. With 7,529,875 article reads, generated from 744 articles – it looks like the readers responded well to such content.

7. Mexico

Even though (as of August 2018) Mexico has a new government that encourages hope with trade negotiations with the US, its largest trading partner, the situation is still pretty tense there. The National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública – SNSP) reports that in the first half of 2019, a total of 17,608 people were killed in Mexico. This is a 5% increase compared to the same period in 2018.

The cartels kept making headlines. The way the “Culiacán operation” ended has put President López Obrador on a hot seat. With 83,471,234 article reads, generated from 8,171 articles – The world kept following in disbelief as Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel seized control of the Mexican city, taking hostages, blocking intersections with burning vehicles and laying siege to a housing complex for the families of military personnel.

While López Obrador’s approval ratings are still very high, Mexico’s increasing body count could eventually erode his popularity. A survey that was going around just two months ago has proven that 56% of questioned Mexican’s now believe that Obrador’s security policy is failing, and that Mexico’s crime groups are growing stronger than the country’s authorities.

8. Environment

The continual decline of water resources in multiple countries across the globe, growing concern with air pollution, climate change issues, the rise of popularity of electric cars, the expansion of green funds – these were just some of the biggest environmental topics in 2019.

With 50,936,507 article reads, generated from 12,573 articles, with 62 seconds of average attention time, and 1.8 Page Depth – environmental stories have proven to be more than just page fillers for most online news portals and magazines.

The young Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, was certainly at the centre of it all. She was definitely the no. 1 environmental story of the year. 

The speech she gave to the world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit back in September ignited the Internet in a way that we haven’t seen before. 

After that particular moment, young Greta was everywhere. Her face was in every media and magazine. Soon after, the 16-year-old activist became the face of the youth climate movement. At the beginning of December, she was even named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

9. Music

With 112,760,460 article reads, generated from 23,113 articles, with 54 seconds of average attention time, and 1.83 Page Depth – music takes the ninth place on our list.

The content that engaged readers the most under this topic was about the music shows and festivals that were happening all year long. People were quite interested to learn who went home with the Grammy, what the best moments of the Brit and Billboard Music Awards were, and how certain music festivals were attended, who played, how people responded to the show, etc.

Also, as every year, celebrity death generated a lot of interest from the readers. Keith Flint from The Prodigy and Marie Fredriksson of Roxette were among the most notable deaths in the industry.

10. Instagram

Instagram was an inexhaustible topic for the publishers in our network. With 83,057,633 article reads, generated from 3,156 articles, with 62 seconds of average attention time, and 1.95 Page Depth – the popular image and video sharing social media platform cements itself in the tenth place of our list of top 10 most engaging topics in 2019.

Instagram is constantly changing, adding new features, and switching up their algorithm. The platform has developed a habit of rolling out new features randomly, without much warning. To stay up to that with everything that’s happening, users are obliged to closely follow the platforms development and look for additional content that explains the changes that suddenly happen to their Instagram feeds and accounts. Knowing this, publishers from our network invested a great amount of time and energy in 2019 into closely following what’s going on with Instagram and reporting on its many changes, and explaining new features. 

The removal of “Like” counts is definitely the biggest thing to happen to Instagram in 2019. This update provoked a lot of heated debates online. Some people criticized this decision because it is going to change the influencer marketing game forever, while others praised the platform for having the stones to move in this direction.

Closing Words

As you can see from this and our last year’s study, a lot can change in a year. Even though stories about football still bring in the most gravy, topics that covered politics weren’t as popular as the year before. It was really unexpected to see how articles which covered art and entertainment performed so well in 2019. Will the growing interest in art and entertainment have an influence on the content we will see this year? We look forward to finding out.

by Goran Mirković

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.

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