If there is a theme for 2021, it is that traffic and engagement is diverging significantly from where it was last year. The close second is that it is harder to engage the audience than during the early days of the pandemic when there was a 200% to 300% traffic surge on many brands seeking news and insight.
It was to be expected, and it is consistent with what most media brands are reporting in the wider market, and is consistently highlighted throughout all the stats we are seeing.
The statistics will have been affected in Q1 and Q2 by a host of new methods we have introduced to Affino to further improve our human vs bot / hacker detection and Affino now excludes an even more significant proportion of the overall traffic from our web and email statistics.
We are not anticipating as many such significant technical updates in the second half of the year, so the series will be more consistent as well as more accurate in the coming months.
We invest heavily in providing the most accurate stats in Affino, so whilst these developments can impact on site traffic figures, they should show a relative improvement in conversion and engagement rates.
The trend is very different from last year where there was a steady increase in traffic until the summer, this year it peaked in February and then declined steadily unitl it rose in June.
Traffic levels are at the same level in June 2021 as in April 2020
Aggregate traffic is down significantly compared to June last year. Some of this is undoubtedly down to event calendars being reorganised, with many events being pushed to the second half of the year when there is a hope that we can have more in-person events.
Given the recent deveopments with the Delta Covid variant, there is a chance though that these events will be disrupted in some form, and in particular that mask and number mandates will remain in place, making such events both less well attended and less profitable.
Some of the decine is undoubtedly down to many sectors focusing on reopening physical venues, so are not so much cyclical, but rather an effect of the focus shifting to the physical space, at least temporarily.
A more worrying trend we’re seeing in 2021 is a decline in the engagement rate. And while this is still significantly up on January 2020, it is nowhere near the peaks of 2020. Which means that for most brands the Covid bump is no longer in place.
We will need to do a deep dive into the engagement figures next month to see if we can identify specific ways to advise clients on how to deepen their engagement with their audiences.
What we can see from the data is tha most brands have improved their overall engagement rates steadily for the past 18 months, whilst some brands have been in steady decline. In most instances the trends are simply a continuation on those.
Where we are seeing significant declines in engagement for some brands is where they have moved to paid for services from being free previously. That in and of itself is inevitable to an extent, but it is crucial to adjust the service offering to get the balance right between overall audience engagement and the additional value-add which can be provided for the subscription and membership services.
Email volumes remain significantly up on this time 2020. In practice email volumes have been consistently higher this year than comparable months last year, with the exception of April (reflected in the start of May data point) where there was a significant dip compared to last year.
When reviewing the data we’re seeing that email along with all the engagement indicators are not following the trends set during the early stage of the pandemic, and it may in practice be another couple of years before we understand what a ’normal’ seasonal pattern is going to be for all these indicators.
Behind the scenes, we have started to look at the average monthly change in email volumes for the individual brands and the monthly swings are dramatic to say the least with an average swing of 26% in email volumes each months. January and March each had approximately 60% increases in email volumes compared to the previous month.
Email Open Rates are averaging at 22.17% and the CTOR rate is averaging 13.39%.
The CTOR (Click to Open Rate) had a peak in January and then a significant dip in February, and has then remained stable. We are looking forward to seeing more messages using the new Message Template Builder (MTB) which should result in better looking and more engaging emails over the coming months.
The Email Open Rate was strongest in February through to April and has since then seen a significant drop from 24.61% to 20.60%. Whilst the email send volume has remained fairly consitent for those months (with the exception of the dip).
There was a peak email bounce rate in April / May which was 300% up on other months this year, but we can see that this is directly correlated with big changes in the message target groups, with some significant contact sets being imported into Affino, and the inevitable churn that happens with such lists.
The number of emails per contact per month remains astonishingly low, with only 2.4 emails per person per month. This no doubt does much to avoid email fatigue, but given that many brands on Affino are news and insight brands, we would expect that many emails each week rather than per month for a lot of the brands and that is not the case.
We will be making some significant updates in Affino over the coming releases whereby we start logging all emails sent out, including all the ecommerce and automated system messages. We will look to add these to the monthly figures to see how they affect the overall numbers and how they are influencing the campaign open rates.
In line with the lower engagement rates we are seeing overall, it is noticeable that brands are getting less engagement with a similar level of effort in 2021. This means the pandemic bump has faded and as a result growing engagement with the audience has gotten that much tougher.
It is possible that we will set a new baseline for these series as the pandemic had a huge impact on some brands - which is fading as we start to move to the new normal.
One takeaway for the Affino team, based on these findings and our conversations with brand leaders, is that there is a great deal of opportunity to drive forward content and engagement strategies using Affino’s enhanced insight capabilities, and its ability to present the most engaging and best converting content automatically to the audience. We will look to run workshops and provide more guidance on how best to leverage these tools to get he best return on effort (ROE).
Audience growth has slowed down in the first six months of 2021. This appears to be down to brand GDPR compliance with big clearouts of legacy contacts from CRMs in the April / May period, which has then been reversed significantly in May / June.
It is clear though that the trend line for this year is considerably flatter than last year, something which we would like to see reverse itself quickly over the coming months.
Looking at the content growth for 2021, it feels very much as though content is being created like clockwork these days. With almost exactly the same volume of content being produced in aggregate each month of the year, with far less variation than we saw last year. It will be interesting to see if that tails off during the summer months or remains as rock steady as it is.
It is hard not to conclude that things are tough out there for audience engagement teams. No doubt things will settle down over the coming months as we return to the new normality. In the meantime teams need to use all the tools at their displosal to help drive engagement forward. Not least the automated ones (including the great new ones in the latest Affino Breakthrough release).
There is more to it than the raw traffic and engagement stats, and we know that for many brands 2021 is turning into a very positive commercial experiene, some are up 100% on sales targets for the year at this point.
It is also still early days for these data series, some are only six months old and it is too early to extrapolate meaningfully at this point - how current performance compares to a typical year, but it is useful to have this data to better understand the relative performance within the market today.
Inspite of the tough environment, the vast majority of brands remain well ahead in terms of traffic, engagement and audience size when compared to January 2021, which will put them in a good position as markets reopen fully in the coming months.
This insight piece is one of a series where we explore Affino Client Brand audience engagement, traffic, reach and more, to identify the latest trends.
For a more in-depth conversation please reach out either to myself of Jonathan Collins, your project manager, alternatively you can reach through the forums to your support team.