12 Days of Data 2021, Day 10: Top News and Web Content


Welcome to the 12 Days of Data 2021 Edition, our look back at the data that made marketing in 2021. We’re looking at the year that was (and oh, what a year it was… again…) from an analytics perspective to see what insights we can take into the next year. Sit up, get your coffee ready, and let’s celebrate some data and look forward to the year ahead.

Top News and Web Content

On the tenth day of 12 Days of Data, we turn our attention to top content around the web, especially the news. For content that did well in 2021, what characteristics did it share? Using the AHREFS index of over a trillion web pages, we examined a large sample of 1,793,796 top stories from 2021 by traffic to see what made the best conteont on the web.

Top news content

Let’s take a look at the headline numbers. In 2021:

  • Length of top performing stories was a median of 463 words
  • Top content earned a median of 7,249 views per piece
  • Top content earned a mere median 1 social share
  • Content was consumed most on Saturdays
  • Key topics included stimulus checks, the World Cup, and COVID vaccines

The top story topics of 2021 are no surprise to anyone in such a tumultuous year:

Top topics

Using raw frequency counts, we see:

  1. The World Cup
  2. Sports Illustrated
  3. Stimulus checks
  4. Esports
  5. The stock marketing
  6. Net worth of various billionaires
  7. Content on the HBO Max streaming service
  8. Star Wars-related content
  9. Free downloads
  10. Former US president Donald Trump

So What?

A couple of key points stand out; this year, content that performed well was half as long as content from previous years. Whether this is an anomaly or a trend remains to be seen, but given the meteoric rise of other forms of short-attention span content like TikTok, it’s not surprising that audiences might not be willing to dig into longer content. As you’re planning your content marketing for 2022, consider not only the length of the content you produce, but also experimenting in many more formats if possible.

Second, one of the major surprises in the data was how few social shares were observed. While the underlying data source AHREFS doesn’t have visibility into all social networks, we still would have expected major news stories and popular content to have earned more shares than a median of 1. What do we take away from this? Social media may be playing less and less of a role in how publications attract readers – and by proxy, it may be playing a smaller role in how you get your audience to your content as well.

The trend over the last 5 years is clear: social networks want brands to pay up for any attention at all. Even credible news sources strain to reach their audiences on social media. If your strategy does not involve extracting audiences from social networks and putting them into reliable reach tactics like email marketing, you expose yourself to substantial risk.


Trust Insights used the AHREFS crawling engine to extract 1,793,796 articles from the 2021 index. Pages were selected using English language stopwords with adult content filtered out and homepages of sites filtered out. The dataset was merged, then de-duplicated by article URL. Articles were limited to the English language, and republished articles from prior years were excluded. For top stories, article headlines were aggregated and then parsed into bigrams, then frequency counted as a representation of the most important stories. The measure of centrality used for this study was the median. The period of the study is January 1, 2021 – December 20, 2021. The date of data extraction is December 21, 2020. Trust Insights is the sole sponsor of the study and neither gave nor received compensation for data used, beyond applicable service fees to software vendors.


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