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How COVID-19 is Changing Internet Usage Across Industries

The internet is going from being a helpful adjunct to a full-on necessity. At Pantheon, we have a privileged vantage point to observe new trends in internet usage across a range of sectors. 

Changing Internet Usage Across Industries COVID-19

With more of us working, living, and connecting with family and friends though screens, internet usage is changing drastically. Millennials are becoming home chefs. Video catch-ups are at an all-time high. Streaming services have replaced typical springtime sports programming. And the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is experiencing an unprecedented uptick in website traffic—reflective of the public's desire for reliable, helpful content regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.  

At Pantheon, we have a privileged vantage point to observe new trends in internet usage across a range of industries. Our platform powers a broad array of WordPress and Drupal websites, reaching approximately one third of the World Wide Web browsing population. A caveat: as we only recently opened our EU and APAC points of presence last year, our dataset today skews heavily towards North American customers and audiences.

Based on our numbers, platform-wide traffic was up approximately 4% in March, compared to the beginning of the year. But this was not evenly distributed across sites. More than 17% of our enterprise clients saw a 20% increase in site traffic in March, compared to the three months prior (the jump was greater than 50% for 7.3% of enterprise clients). The industries most affected by this trend include education, publishing, internet and software solutions, and consulting.

Major industries represented in the >20% increase category: 

  • Education: 16% of .edu pages powered by Pantheon experienced a traffic jump of 20% or higher in March, compared to the three months prior.

  • Publishing:  21% of pages dedicated to media and publishing experienced >20% traffic increases in March, compared to the three months prior. 

  • Internet & Software Services: 16% of pages providing internet and software services experienced at least a 20% increase in traffic in March.

  • Consulting: 16% of consulting sites, including health advertising and online consulting, saw a >20% uptick during March this year, compared to the three months prior. 

As these numbers indicate, the internet is going from being a helpful adjunct to a full-on necessity in certain industries. Where educating students and running a business could once happen through in-person interactions and physical storefronts, everything must now be digital. This is apparent in the traffic flowing to .edu sites and the increased interest in professional services, which include digital marketing consulting.  

How is The Internet Holding Up?  

To give us an indication of how the internet is holding up under such intense usage, the edge cloud platform Fastly—a Pantheon partner—analyzed changes in traffic volume and download speeds for February and March in different locations. 

Within the US, California was the only state measured in which download speed improved alongside traffic numbers—with a 46.5% increase in traffic volume, and a 1.2% increase in download speed. New York and New Jersey saw a similar jump in traffic (44.6%) but a lagging in download speed (-5.5%). Michigan struggled the most with a 37.9% jump in traffic leading to a 16.1% toll on download speed.  

Media Consumption is Changing

In the media sector, Pantheon's data puts local news ahead of regular channels.—a Pantheon customer and a news platform that invites public participation in local news curation—surpassed the Washington Post in overall Alexa rankings, and is continuing to climb in national web property rankings.  

Similar trends are reported by the New York Times, showing increases of up to 150% in monthly site traffic for publications like the San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, and the Akron Beacon Journal. This compares to a jump of less than 100% for larger names like CNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Fox News. Partisan sites show smaller increases again. 

According to the Global Web Index, broadcast television, online videos, and online television streaming have become the most popular mediums across all generations during COVID-19. And 68% of consumers say COVID-19 content dominates their browsing time, making it the biggest online activity across the US and the UK. In addition, online leisure activities, like listening to music and watching movies, are on the rise in all age groups. 

Crisis Communication Sites are Dealing with Traffic Spikes

The Open Web is one of society's most powerful tools in handling the health and societal impacts of COVID-19. The ability for frontline organizations to quickly disseminate reliable and helpful information to the communities who need it most is essential in this fight. The Global Web Index shows the World Health Organization and government health websites are considered more reliable sources of COVID-19 coverage, above news websites of any kind. And the Fastly data shows the largest peaks in traffic volume happen directly after public policy announcements, including orders for businesses to shutter and directions to stay at home. 

Yet, these websites arguably entered this crisis at a disadvantage. Where news sites are built to chase and support viral content, government health websites are less accustomed to dealing with such traffic. The CDC, for example, experienced a jump from almost no traffic whatsoever in January, to more than 10 million daily users in March. 

To help, Pantheon is offering its WebOps platform free of charge to organizations on the frontline, including government, health, educational, and nonprofit institutions. Pantheon powers similar updates for the City and County of San Francisco (one of the first US districts to implement shelter-in-place measures) and Washington State (the primary pandemic hotspot in the US). Both have seen unprecedented surges in website traffic. 

You will find information about this and other Pantheon offers—a tool for keeping your web team productive and collaborative, for example—on our crisis communications page. Whether you're transitioning from a physical space to a digital-only audience, or if you're struggling to keep pace with growing traffic demands, Pantheon is here to help. Get in touch today.


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