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Reader behavior in “The New Normal”

September 5, 2021

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2020 was a unique year. Largely restricted to their homes, people spent a lot of time online — leading to a huge surge in traffic that helped offset unsure advertising spend.

Starting in March and April 2021, we’ve started to see traffic begin to sink back to pre-COVID rates. Thanks to increasing advertiser confidence though, ad spend has been on the rise, offsetting this decline in traffic.

Post-COVID: a general downward shift in traffic

There are a few reasons why we see this decline so let’s jump into them:

1. Normal “summer slump”

If you’ve been blogging for a while, this pattern is familiar to you. Site traffic is generally lower in the summer months while your readers enjoy vacations and spend time outdoors. There is less time for screens and more time enjoying the fleeting summertime bliss.

2. Excited to escape the house

This year, that summer escape is compounded by the fact that many people just spent an entire year hunkered down in their houses. They’re extra eager to get out of the house now that things are re-opening and vaccinations are on the rise.

From “vaxcations” to “revenge shopping,” people are taking even more advantage of all the summertime activities and adventures they can go on.

3. Algorithm changes

As if that wasn’t already a lot of factors affecting traffic, let’s add another element to the mix: algorithm changes.

The tech engines and platforms of the world are always evolving. If they’re not moving forward, they’re falling behind. Unfortunately, their changes force us all to evolve with them.

Google released their Core Web Vitals updates as well as a few core algorithm changes this spring (check out our Core Web Vitals guide here), Pinterest changed up their pin priorities (more on this below), and Facebook has made their own adjustments as well.

Graph showing AdThrive publisher traffic from 2019, 2020, and 2021


Click to view the larger image

Pinterest has seen an especially steep decline

Have you noticed a decline in your traffic coming from Pinterest? We’re here to let you know that you’re not alone. There has been quite a shift in their algorithm that started impacting publisher traffic in the spring.

The Pinterest algorithm changed (again)

The latest update has two significant changes that affect the user’s feed experience. Pinterest is now favoring:

Idea pins aren’t just showing up a lot more frequently in users’ Pinterest feeds — they also don’t click through to your site.

Due to this algorithm change (and coupled with general seasonal and COVID-related declines), we’ve seen a significant decrease in Pinterest-driven traffic across AdThrive publishers.

In some instances, publishers see traffic from Pinterest cut in half compared to 2020 numbers and down 30-40% compared to 2019 numbers. Food, home, and finance verticals have seen an especially strong impact.

Line graph of AdThrive publisher Pinterest traffic for 2019, 2020, and 2021 showing a decline in 2021 after the algorithm change


Click to view the larger image

A few Pinterest tips

Always keep your reader’s journey and experience top of mind when thinking about how to approach and use various social media platforms. Platform tips and tricks can change quickly as the algorithm changes, but having user experience in mind first and foremost can help you figure out the best way to serve and connect with your audience wherever they may be.

Take advantage and experiment with Idea Pins. Since Idea Pins do not include the ability to click out to your site, make sure to:

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Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

Make sure you’re also taking advantage of Pinterest’s new emphasis on video by creating (or repurposing) video content for Pinterest! Luckily, video pins are still clickable, so you want to make sure you’re creating content that is getting prioritized in users’ feeds.

Pinterest is also favoring new and “fresh” content, so make sure you’re also focused on creating fresh content and ideas to share in your audience’s feeds.

Finally, make sure you’re focusing on diversifying your traffic sources to help offset the effect of any individual platform’s algorithm change. More on that in the next section!

Diversify your traffic to offset the decline

You don’t want all your eggs in one basket, especially when it comes to website traffic. Relying on any one source can put your site’s traffic and revenue at risk if algorithms change, platforms go down, etc.

Take advantage of a quiet season to refocus on how you can build your site’s reader base and diversify your traffic.

Start with your content strategy

It never hurts to go back to your foundation and assess your overall business goals and content strategy. As reader behavior and traffic shift, think about how you can adapt your content strategy along with it.

Ask yourself important questions to steer you in the right direction: 

As you ask these questions and others, you can re-evaluate what channels will best reach your audience, what types of content you should create and update, etc.

Dig deeper:

Improve your search traffic

Focusing on SEO and search traffic can make a huge difference for your business. Some verticals, like travel and sports, are seeing a boost in search traffic this summer compared to last year’s numbers — so it’s especially important to make sure your SEO is on point.

Line graph of AdThrive publisher search traffic for 2019, 2020, and 2021 so far


Click to view the larger image

As we head into the winter months, when people will start spending more time in the home and seeking out inspiration for all the Q4 holiday fun, you want to be primed to take advantage of the rising traffic!

Take the time this summer to update and prepare your content for the months ahead and optimize your site to take full advantage of search.

Dig deeper:

All AdThrive publishers receive complimentary access to the HashtagJeff SEO Mastermind course and community. Make sure you’re taking advantage! Learn more and sign up here.

Boost your direct traffic

Direct is one of the most consistent sources of traffic we see this year! While other sources of traffic have seen a sharper traffic decline this summer, direct traffic has stayed stronger than all other sources.

Line graph of AdThrive Publisher Direct traffic for 2019, 2020, and 2021 so far


Click to view the larger image

Growing your email list and turning your readers into loyal subscribers and fans is a great way to help protect your business from algorithm changes.

Dig deeper:

Make sure you are taking advantage of Matt Molen’s course on all things email strategy — available for free to AdThrive publishers! Learn more and sign up for the next sessions here.

Explore other platforms, with a focus on video

If you haven’t already, now could be the perfect time to try out other channels and focus on growing your presence outside of Pinterest.

Video is huge right now! Between Instagram’s announcement they are focusing on video to the rage of Tik Tok and the consistent popularity of Youtube, make sure your video efforts are working hard for you. Experiment, try out new things, play around with different video tools, and repurpose content where possible.

The best part is that you can repurpose video you make for other platforms on your website and take advantage of our video players to maximize your revenue!

Summer, travel, and algorithm changes are affecting traffic and readership significantly. A content strategy geared toward diversity, SEO optimization, and taking advantage of video content will help publishers adapt and pivot to the latest shifts.

We’re here to help with insights to help you stay informed about what’s going on in the world so you have time to continue producing the quality content your readers expect!

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This content was originally published here.


Founder of Content Gravy and based just west of Brisbane, Australia. Stephen works with companies and brands of every size to establish, expand, and improve their online footprint through the implementation of the highest quality digital content.

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