The evolution of crypto exchange
strategies 2018-2020
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Introduction
Back in 2018, as the ICO format was rapidly losing its popularity, we conducted our first study of cryptocurrency exchanges, which were attracting more and more market players thanks to their high profitability.



We analyzed dozens of exchanges by criteria such as availability, website features, target audience, traffic sources, marketing channels, affiliate programs, and community management.
The present study is a continuation of our original research. Our key objective was to understand how crypto exchange activity has evolved by the end of 2020.
#2
The three largest exchanges account for 75% of the total trading volume, though only OKex has succeeded in increasing both its absolute trading volume and its market share every year
Most of the major exchanges offer services in 150+ countries, while the US and South Korea are the most popular jurisdictions with the top trading platforms
#1
Kraken, Coinbase, and Binance are rated as the most secure by experts
#3
Here are just some of the insights you will find in this study:
#6
Mining pools constitute one of the key groups of institutional clients, supplying 28% of all bitcoins
40% of major exchanges have their own native tokens; native stablecoins are a growing trend
#5
#4
The percentage of large exchanges offering a fiat gateway has grown from 43% to 70% (while 65% allow users to buy crypto with a credit card)
#11
Far from all exchanges dedicate enough attention to SEO: only 11 out of the 32 websites can be considered highly optimized
The second-most important search engine in terms of the traffic volume supplied to crypto exchanges is DuckDuckGo; while its overall share in the traffic is just 1.6%, it has grown by 26% since 2018
#10
Almost all of the reviewed websites have regional versions, but less than half of those are set up correctly
#12
Here are just some of the insights you will find in this study:
#9
99% of all visits from search engines originate from regular (text) searches; the share of image, video, and news search is still very small
Direct traffic accounts for 71% of the total web traffic flowing to exchange websites, while visits originating from search engines account for just 11.5%
#8
#7
While mixed-type trading platforms like eToroX and Robinhood are actively promoting crypto functionality, their audience, trading volumes, and revenue are several times lower than those of the leading crypto exchanges
#13: None of the exchanges under study use trigger emails (i.e. emails sent in reaction to the user's actions on the trading platform) and only 50% have an onboarding email sequence
The top 30 exchanges and selection criteria
We have selected 30 popular cryptocurrency exchanges from the top-100 lists on Coinmarketcap, Coingecko, and CryptoCompare. If an exchange was listed in the top 30 of at least two out of these three websites, we included it on the list. The remaining spots went to the exchanges featured on the Coingecko top 30. To these, we added two mixed-type exchanges that feature crypto together with other asset types and compete with crypto exchanges proper: eToro and Robinhood.
It should be noted that an exchange's popularity rating on aggregator websites (which is the same as a trustworthiness rating) is based on several important indicators: liquidity, trading volume, cybersecurity, investments, team, and traffic.
Part 1. Crypto exchange organization, financial operations, and security
This section looks at the fundamental factors the determine the competitiveness of an exchange:

  • Number of countries in which a platform offers services (defines the potential outreach)
  • Security (determined not as much by the absence of hacker attacks in general as by the absence of successful thefts affecting customer funds)
  • Target audience (customer profiling is crucial for effective marketing)
  • Trading volume (points to the depth of liquidity - an essential indicator for experienced and pro traders)
Jurisdictions and geographic availability
This section uses data gathered on Coinmarketcap, Crunchbase, Craft.io, and Linkedin, as well as on the exchanges' official websites. We found the US and South Korea lead by the largest number of registered exchanges on our list, with 7 and 3, respectively.

Out of the jurisdictions that were very popular back in 2018, only the US retained its position on the list. China and Hong Kong left it altogether. By 2020, four out of the large exchanges registered in Hong Kong changed their jurisdiction, while the trust rating of 3 out of the 4 major China-registered platforms dropped by a factor of 10 or more since 2018, and one of them was even recognized as a scam.
One of the most talked-about crypto events of 2018 was the decision by both Binance and OKEx to move their headquarters to Malta. Also in 2018, Bitfinex announced that it would shift its HQ to Switzerland.

The main reasons for the move in all three cases were increasingly tight regulations, the undefined position of the state towards crypto businesses, and the desire to enter new markets.

Below is a map of exchange HQ distribution, with the size of each circle representing the relative number of exchanges registered in that particular jurisdiction:
The chart below ranks the exchanges by the number of countries whose residents are allowed to trade on each platform. The available countries lists were procured from exchanges' official websites and Fxempire.

Three out of the 32 exchanges are missing: Indodax, AAX, Bitkub. At the time of research, their websites did not feature a list of supported countries.
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Poloniex leads in our availability rating with 199 supported countries. On the other end of the spectrum we find Upbeat and Coinone, both registered in South Korea and available only there. Most of the exchanges on our list are available to users from almost all countries, apart from the so-called restricted territories. For instance, Binance is officially unavailable in Belarus and some other states.

It is worth noting that the US often figures on the lists of restricted territories lists. Due to the strict crypto regulation framework in the US, many of the exchanges registered outside of the United States have issues serving American customers (from all or at least some of the states). Bitmart is a good example.

We should also point out that official exchange availability in a country does not mean that all of its products and features will be offered there. Moreover, exchanges can modify the list of restricted jurisdictions at their own discretion according to the changing regulatory and economic circumstances.
Insight #1: Most major exchanges offer services in 150+ countries, with the US and South Korea leading by the number of exchanges officially registered there
Target audience
The many studies that tried to determine the overall number and characteristics of crypto users have all produced different results. While large exchanges possess detailed information on their customers (obtained through KYC), they will not publish these data. Nevertheless, by using only publicly available information we can make several useful conclusions about the number of cryptocurrency users as a whole and the audience of crypto exchanges in particular. We have already conducted a similar study in 2019.

Crypto exchange audiences are growing fast. As shown in the diagram below, the number of crypto users has almost tripled since 2018 (data from the global crypto asset study by the University of Cambridge and a similar study published in 2020).
The crypto gender gap is closing. According to an investor study by Grayscale, published in September 2019, women constitute almost half (43%) out of the 21 million US residents who are interested in Bitcoin. In the UK, according to a June 2020 study by the Financial Conduct Authority women amount to 21% of the crypto community.
Users aged 18-24: the number of women increased by 65%
Users from the Americas and Europe: the number of women grew by over 50%
CoinMarketCap's Q1 2020 report shows that the number of female crypto users grew by 43.24% compared to the previous quarter. The increase was particularly marked within two groups:
Most exchange customers are individuals (retail traders). According to a 2018 study by Cambridge University, crypto exchange customers are distributed as follows:
individuals (retail clients) – 70%
business and institutional clients – 19%
others (unknown) – 11%
The new 2020 study produced similar results, this time with distribution by region:
As we see, the distribution of crypto exchange users has remained largely unchanged in the past two years.
Mining pools are key Bitcoin suppliers. Mining pools are among exchanges' most important B2B customers. According to a recent Chainalysis study that looked at the data for 2017-2020, 28% of all Bitcoins that flow into exchanges (except for those transferred from other trading platforms) come from pools: miners regularly sell the coins they receive as a reward for adding new blocks to the blockchain.
An interesting fact: in 2019, just 10% of exchanges accounted for 77% of all incoming bitcoins. Notably, Huobi and OKex received 29% and 12% of all BTC, respectively.
Exchanges tend to attract local users. According to the 2020 Cambridge University study quoted above, users residing in the same region where a crypto exchange is registered tend to constitute a large share of its users.
User interests correlate with exchange location. We've analyzed the interests of the customers of the 30 largest exchanges using SimilarWeb.com. The data for December 15, 2020, shows that most platforms' users are interested in three types of topics:
finance as a whole (up to 26% for some exchanges)
investments (up to 24%)
lotteries (only for 1/3 of the exchanges, up to 32% of users)
We've noticed several interesting geographic correlations:

  1. Interest in lotteries is common for users on the exchanges that attract customers from China (Huobi, OKex, Gate), Thailand (Bitkub), and Indonesia (Indodax);
  2. On the exchanges where users from South Korea constitute over 90% (Upbit, Bithumb, Coinone), the customers tend to be interested in eCommerce and shopping (14-16% of all users);
  3. Many Japanese exchange users (Bitflyer and Liquid) are interested in websites from the food & drink category.
Insight #2: Mining pools are a key group of institutional exchange customers, supplying 28% of all bitcoins
Trading dynamics
This section looks only at cryptocurrency exchanges (i.e. Robinhood and eToro are excluded). The data was procured from Nomics.com.

The table below shows the year-on-year volume change. 'Share' indicates an exchange's share in the total trading volume.
Some of the exchanges failed to increase their trading volume between 2018 and 2019. Only 6 out of 15 exchanges can boast positive average volume change values, and the average YoY volume change for all exchanges was just 1.5%. (The table does not include the outlying 8,000% result shown by Oceanex: this exchange was launched only in late 2018, so its numbers have little statistical value.)

2019-2020 was a much more successful period volume-wise. Аverage YoY growth amounted to 170% (we've excluded Crypto.com, which was launched in late 2019). Only 6 out of the 26 exchanges did not demonstrate an increase in trading volumes. Throughout the period under study, only two exchanges on our list enjoyed stable volume growth: bitFlyer and OKex.

It is interesting to look at the dynamics of each exchange's share in the overall trading volume. It is listed in the table (the calculations are based on the average monthly trading volume):
Below is an interactive diagram with the possibility to sort and filter data:
In 2018, Binance, OKex, and Bitfinex could boast the largest shares in the overall volume. Though by 2020, Bitfinex lost its position to Huobi, partly due to regulatory issues.

OKex, which, as we have mentioned, has consistently ranked as one of the top 3 platforms by volume, has also consistently increased its share: from 17% of the overall volume in 2018 to 21% in 2019 and 22% in 2020. Thus, this exchange not only managed to boost its trading volumes every year, but it also increased its market share.

Another thing to note is the fast increase in the average trading volumes on Binance, Coinbase, Kraken, and Poloniex in the last 12 months of the period. Back in 2018-2019, they all experienced volume drops, but in 2019-2020 all these platforms (except for Kraken) saw their volumes rise by over 100%. At the same time, their respective shares in the overall volume fell, apart from Binance.
Insight #3: Three major players account for over 75% of the overall trading volume, though only OKex has increased both its absolute volume and its share every year
Exchange security
Safety and security are among the key factors that determine the level of users' trust towards an exchange. In this section of the study, we've used public reports and rankings that have been published by CER and ICOrating in the past three years. Only cryptocurrency exchanges are reviewed in this section: eToro and Robinhood are excluded from the analysis.

Since every exchange safety rating uses its own methodology, we will not compare individual rankings but rather try to understand how safe major exchanges are and which ones lead in terms of security.

The table synthesizes different security rankings for the whole period under review, with the exchanges ranked by their 2020 safety indicator values.
ICOrating values have been converted from letters into numbers as follows: A+ = 10, А = 9 ... С- = 2.
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To get a general idea of how exchanges compare in terms of security, it is enough to look at the top 15 most secure exchanges for each year. We notice that 7 of them are found on the list every year. These can be considered the safest trading platforms, based on independent expert evaluations. Here are these exchanges, in no particular order:
Six more exchanges from our initial list are included on the top 15 for the second year. They are:
Analyzing each exchange's average 3-year rating, we can identify the industry leaders in terms of security. The top 15 platforms' security rating for the whole period is shown in the chart below.
Only 4 out of the 15 exchanges on this sub-list fell victim to hackers and sustained losses at least once during the period under study: they are Kraken, Binance, KuCoin, Liquid (sustained reputational damage – see the description of the incident) and Bithumb (twice). However, this didn't have much of an impact on the average security rating of Kraken, Binance, and KuCoin. They are still on the list of the top 5 most secure exchanges.
This is probably because, while the above-mentioned exchanges were attacked, the hacks did not directly concern their clients' funds. When users themselves lost money to criminals and hackers, it was usually due to the users' own carelessness or lack of knowledge about crypto security.

The safest exchanges, according to expert evaluations, are Kraken, Coinbase, and Binance.
Insight #4: Our synthetic analysis shows that Kraken, Coinbase, and Binane are the most secure of the exchanges on the list
Conclusions #1
The past two years were marked by a change in the geographic distribution of crypto exchanges. Many of the platforms previously headquartered in China or Hong Kong moved to countries with a better regulatory climate. The US and South Korea still have the highest number of registered platforms from the top-30, indicating a relatively exchange-friendly regulatory framework.


Perhaps it is thanks to these recent moves that crypto trading is now available in more countries than ever before. Most of the leading players support 150+ jurisdictions.


Moreover, exchanges now place a higher priority on security, since it directly impacts their reputation and, therefore, their ability to compete in the market. Since 2018, the exchanges on our list did not suffer any officially recognized hacks or theft episodes involving their customers' wallets and funds.
Part 2. Competitive differentiation
In this section, we will examine exchange differentiation by such projects as native tokens, fiat support, and IEO investments. This will allow us to understand which features are seen as a priority in 2020 and should therefore be offered to customers to maximize the competitive potential of an exchange.

We will also analyze the competition between two types of exchanges: crypto platforms proper and mixed-type platforms, such as eToro and Robinhood. How successful are the 'pure' crypto exchanges compared to these latter services, which support numerous types of assets, including crypto, stocks, ETFs, indices, etc.
Native exchange tokens
Already in 2018, the trend for issuing native tokens was quite clear. At present, 40% of the exchanges on our list (13 out of 32) have at least one native token.

The current trend is to expand the native asset offering by issuing stablecoins. Binance started with two stable assets (pegged to the USD and GBP) and launched two more in 2020, pegged to the Indian rupee and the Korean won. In autumn 2020, Huobi issued a BTC-pegged stablecoin.

A few more exchanges have announced that they are working on their own token, For example, Bithumb in November 2019 and Bittrex in May 2020.

As for price growth, the native tokens to have shown the best results are those by Huobi, Crypto.com, Binance, and FTX (over 100%). In the same period, Bitcoin appreciated by 213%, though December 2020 accounted for much of this growth.
The price change for the native tokens by Crypto.com, FTX, Gate.io, AAX, Bilaxy, OceanEX and Bitrue was calculated starting from the moment when these tokens were first issued, since all of them were launched after November 2018.

Token appreciation aside, exchanges are quickly catching up with Binance and Okex in terms of issuing native tokens. These players are also interested in creating stable coins, and it is these exchanges that are shaping the native stablecoin trend. We should also point out that eToro already has a whole set of stablecoins, pegged to the major fiat currencies, as well as gold and silver.
Insight #5: 40% of exchanges have their own (native) cryptocurrencies, with native stablecoins becoming ever more popular
Fiat and credit card support, mobile apps, and IEOs
The high level of competition forces crypto exchanges to be flexible and regularly expand their range of features. We've looked at those exchange products that have links directly with crypto trading: fiat deposits and withdrawals, buying crypto with a card, marginal trading, investing in crypto projects, OTC desks, and mobile apps.
Fiat support. Deposits and withdrawals in fiat currency are increasingly seen as a necessity: 23 out of the 32 exchanges (slightly over 70%) have a fiat ramp, while back in 2018 only 13 out of 30 platforms (43%) offered this feature. In particular, Binance, OKex, Bittrex, and Poloniex, didn't have fiat deposits and withdrawals in 2018.

Moreover, exchanges now aim to implement fiat ramps for those currencies and in those markets where they are actively expanding. While at first such gateways usually only support USD, an exchange might later add RUB and EUR, for example.
Bank card support. This feature differs from a simple fiat gateway because many gateways only support wire transfers. We should also note that deposits using credit and debit cards are two different features as far as exchanges are concerned.

Over 50% of platforms already support margin trading and OTC (over-the-counter) exchange. By contrast, a launchpad for investing in crypto projects is still available on the same few exchanges that offered it back in 2018 (Binance, KuCoin, and others). It's likely that, in the future, exchanges will see this feature as less and less essential, since the popularity of IEOs keeps falling.
Mobile app. Almost all exchanges now have mobile apps, while back in 2018 some of the platforms did not offer this feature. However, since more web content is now consumed globally on mobile devices than on desktop, an exchange without a mobile app will struggle to remain competitive.

Mobile trading apps are more stable, secure, and convenient than mobile websites. For instance, it is more difficult for a phisher to produce a fake app than a fake webpage.
Innovative features. Apart from the standard trading tools, exchanges are introducing some brand-new functionality, partly to compete with the popular DeFi (decentralized finance) platforms.

For instance, the top 3 exchanges on our list already offer or plan to offer the following services:
crypto staking
crypto loans
deposit accounts
crypto custody
P2P trading
liquidity swaps
Insight #6: The share of exchanges offering a fiat gateway has grown from 43% to 70%, while 65% of exchanges allow users to buy crypto with a credit card
Competition with all-in-one trading platforms
We've chosen two mixed-type platforms for comparison: eToro and Robinhood. Unlike crypto exchanges that support only cryptocurrencies and their derivatives, these all-in-one platforms also allow trading in shares, ETFs, CFDs, Forex pairs, commodities, and indices. This approach allows them to attract those users who are interested in diversifying their trading, potentially making these platforms strong competitors for crypto exchanges.

Both еТоrо and Robinhood are aimed at beginner investors. Etoro positions itself as a social trading platform and offers a unique product called copytrading. This instrument allows users to copy successful traders' deals. Meanwhile, Robinhood stresses its zero trading commissions and the gamification of trading and investments.

Thanks to the new ways of interacting with the audience and a large number of innovative products, as well as gamification and social features, eToro and Robinhood managed to attract millions of users. But can they offer serious competition to the traditional crypto exchanges - and did this competition intensify in the past two years? To understand this, we have compared Binance and Coinbase, on the one hand, with Robinhood and eToro, on the other hand, by several parameters: the number of supported coins, trading volume, etc.

eToro first introduced cryptocurrency support as early as 2014, and in 2018 it launched a dedicated crypto trading platform called eToroX. Robinhood first announced that it would add crypto to its list of supported assets (mostly stocks), though the company's representatives did not conceal the fact that the main objective of this innovation was to attract attention to the platform's main products.
Both platforms have a relatively intuitive interface and a low entry threshold. The key difference is that eToroX charges trading fees, while Robinhood doesn't have a separate trading commission.

On the other hand, eToroX was created by a well-known company that had been present in the market for many years, while Robinhood is a relatively new entrant.

According to Bloomberg, over 150,000 users joined Robinhood in the first few hours after the launch of crypto trading (the platform had around 3 million users at that point). Below is a chart showing the year-by-year number of users for each of the four platforms.

Grey circles represent the approximate values for those periods where exact data are not available.
The chart makes it clear that cryptocurrency exchanges invariably exceed mixed-type platforms by the user base size, even though they support a more limited range of assets.

As for the number of cryptos available for trading, 'real' crypto exchanges also lead:
As mentioned above, mixed-type platforms mostly attract beginner traders. For this reason, their asset lists include the most popular cryptos with which their users are likely to be familiar with from reading the news: BTC, ETH, USDT, LTC, etc.

Comparing the two types of platforms by financial results is more complicated, because, as private companies, they are reluctant to report on their financial performance. The only information available from public sources is their overall revenue: Robinhood made $180 million in Q2 2020, while eToro's revenue for all of 2020 amounted to $500 million. At the same time, Binance increased its revenue from $570m to $800m or even $1bn (forecasted values), while Coinbase was expected to earn $800m in 2020, according to Forbes.

We've also compared the trading volumes for eToroX, Binance, and Coinbase:
Crypto exchanges clearly lead by a large margin. The daily volume on eToroX rarely reaches $1 billion, while it is almost always above $1bn on Coinbase and Binance. In the latter case, it usually exceeds $10bn.

Finally, we should indicate the differences in functionality. While Robinhood and eToroX do offer a basic set of crypto trading tools, they are aimed at those users who are familiar with traditional spot trading (buying and selling stocks at the current market price) and want to work with the largest and most established cryptos.

Moreover, Robinhood doesn't even allow users to withdraw crypto to an external wallet; the platform's customers don't actually own any BTC but rather hold an internal derivative on their balance to gain exposure to BTC. .
Insight #7: Even though mixed-type platforms like eToroX and Robinhood actively promote their crypto trading features, they still lag behind specialized cryptocurrency exchanges in terms of the number of users, trading volume, and revenue
Conclusions #2
A quality product marketing strategy plays an important role in increasing competitive potential, attracting new users, and retaining the existing ones. Exchanges are actively expanding their range of features, adding innovative tools like staking, deposit accounts, liquidity swaps, and crypto custody.

As for the more familiar features, over 70% of the exchanges on our list offer fiat gateways, often in several currencies, while 65% already support credit cards. Apart from fiat support, a mobile app is viewed as another virtually indispensable feature.

It's also worth pointing out the trend for native exchange tokens, especially stablecoins. Some of the previously issued native cryptos have already appreciated by over 100%. This is a good way for exchanges to develop their ecosystems, and this is finding a positive response among their users.

As for the competition with mixed-type platforms, crypto exchanges are still far ahead of the services like eToro and Robinhood in terms of user numbers and trading volumes. Even though mixed platforms offer a wider range of tradable assets (crypto, stocks, ETFs, indices, gold), their trading terms are less attractive to crypto traders, so neither Robinhood nor eToro can be considered dangerous rivals to the 'real' cryptocurrency exchanges, at least for now.

In a sense, the development of mixed-type platforms can even play to the advantage of crypto exchanges. As more traditional exchanges add crypto to their portfolios, the number of cryptocurrency users will grow faster, bringing mass crypto adoption closer.
Part 3. Internet marketing
This section analyzes crypto exchanges web traffic, search dynamics, and visitor behavior. Next, we will determine which trading platforms have best optimized their websites both to make them easier for the customers to use and to help them rank higher in Google. We will look at such parameters as SEO, backlinks, the use of subdomains and structured data, page load speed, etc.

In the second part of the section, we will look at how efficiently exchanges use the potential of email marketing. We will also analyze some interesting social media marketing statistics: how the number of exchange followers grows, how often exchanges publish new posts, and where user engagement is highest.
Traffic sources
In this section, we're looking at the crypto exchanges' web traffic and its indicators, such as engagement, bounce rate, share of paid traffic, etc., as well their SEO (search engine optimization). We used Similarweb data for the period from September 2020 and November 2020.

The chart shows how all exchanges' traffic was distributed by source in 2018 and 2020:
We can see that direct traffic accounts for over 70% of visits to exchange websites. Indeed, many regular customers visit the exchange daily and either has its address saved in their bookmarks, or it is automatically filled in as soon as they start entering the address in the address line in their browser.

The second most important type of traffic is referrals (i.e. visits from links published on other sites), though its share has decreased significantly compared to 2018. It now amounts to slightly more than 8%. In absolute numbers, according to our calculations, exchanges can get up to 3.7 million referral visits a month.

Interestingly, over 90% of all referral traffic is provided by just two websites that pay users for watching ads: adbtc.top and conpayu.com. The two most common sources of referral visits are Coingecko and CoinMarketCap: over 50% of the exchanges on our list receive visits from these sites, though their combined share in the overall referral traffic is only 2.5%.

The least important traffic source is display ads, though their share has grown in the past two years (just like the share of direct traffic). However, in absolute terms for desktop it has a significant effect of over 1.6 monthly visits to all the exchanges under review. The most popular ad networks are Google Display Network (used by over 57% of exchanges), RevenueHits (over 40% of exchanges), and Coinzilla (more than 30%).
The following exchanges lead in terms of traffic volume:
On average, each of the top 3 exchanges by traffic receive over 35m monthly visits. This is 1,100% more than the average traffic for the rest of the exchanges.

As for the behavioral indicators, the same 3 exchanges lead here, too:
The average visit duration is 2 min 45 sec longer for the top 3 platforms (6 min 45 sec) than for the rest
On the top exchanges, visitors view 1,25 more pages on average than others
The bounce rate is 3,35% lower for the top 3 exchanges
We can conclude that those exchanges that receive most traffic also perform better in terms of visitor behavior indicators. This points to a higher loyalty of their customers.
Insight #8: Direct traffic accounts for 71% of website visits, while search traffic's share is just 11.5%
Traffic distribution by search type
Google, Bing, Yandex, and other engines offer not only text search (i.e. regular search), but also searching by images, video, shopping items, and other sources of data. Our analysis shows that for all the 32 exchange websites we have reviewed, regular search dominates, while all other search types combined account for only 0.3% of the traffic. The top 3 exchanges' traffic distribution by search type is presented in the table:
Insight #9: Regular (text) search accounts for over 99% of all visits to exchange websites that originate in search engines. The share of image, video, and news search is still very small
Branded search
Branded traffic includes all website visits originating from search queries that contain the name of a brand. For the top 3 exchanges by traffic volume, this is the dominant type, accounting for 86% of all visits, or 11.47% more than for the rest of the exchanges we have reviewed. Thus, it is justified to say that the stronger the brand, the more branded traffic it receives, and vice versa.

We should note that 76% of branded visits to the leading exchanges' websites happen on desktop, and only 24% on mobile, while for the rest of the exchanges, branded desktop traffic constitutes 61% and mobile branded traffic, 39%. The distribution of traffic by search type for the 3 leading exchanges is shown in the table:
We have also analyzed branded search dynamics for each of the exchanges in the past two years (US traffic only). This indicator shows the change in the brand popularity and awareness. 15 out of the 32 sites received more branded traffic in 2020 than in 2018, 9 received less, and for 8 exchanges it remained on the same level.
Insight #10: 86% of all visits to the websites with the highest overall traffic originate from branded searches
Search engines
We have also looked at the leading websites' traffic distribution by search engine, using those that are tracked by SimilarWeb: Google, Yandex, Baidu, Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo, and Naver.
All three websites get an average of 94.42% of their traffic from Google.

The second most popular search engine supplying traffic to crypto exchanges is DuckDuckGo: it accounts for 1.6% of the overall search traffic, up 26% since 2018.

Since exchanges receive almost 95% of their visitors from Google, it's crucial to optimize an exchange website for Google search and leverage the whole range of search types: Maps, image search, video search, news search, etc. This will help boost traffic, brand awareness, and user loyalty.
Insight #11: The second-most important search engine in terms of the amount of traffic supplied by exchanges is DuckDuckGo; though its share is only 1.6%, it has increased by 26% since 2018
Exchange traffic distribution by country
A recent study by The Bell shows that the top 3 countries that supply most web traffic to crypto exchanges are the USA, South Korea, and Japan.
Although the number of visits per user is random, the overall number of visits originating from a certain country helps to evaluate the level of interest towards a specific exchange among the users residing in that country.

China is absent from the chart due to the fact its authorities have blocked a large number of websites, including crypto exchanges, and Chinese users have to use VPN to access them. Therefore, China's share in the overall traffic will be spread out across the values for other countries.
Language versions
Most of the exchanges on our list are available in several languages. These should ideally be accompanied by the hreflang attribute, introduced by Google back in 2011. Hreflang shows the search engines the relationships between pages in different languages, so that the user can be served results adapted for their region.

Google recommends the service https://technicalseo.com/tools/hreflang for quicks checks of the presence and correctness of hreflang attributes. The service shows that out of the 32 exchange websites, only 12 use hreflang. 14 websites feature versions in different languages but don't use hreflang.
Insight #12: Only 12 out of the 32 exchange websites (37.5%) use the hreflang attribute, even though it helps to promote the regional versions of a website in search engines
Search queries
We have analyzed Google search queries for the US region. The top 3 exchanges with the largest number of different queries are listed below.
Comparing the websites that lead in terms of traffic volume (Robinhood, Coinbase, and Binance) with those that have the highest number of search queries (Robinhood, Coinbase Pro, bitFlyer), we can conclude that a large number of queries does not necessarily mean a lot of traffic. A query's frequency plays a key role, together with a website's ranking for that query.
Subdomains
Next, we have checked all 32 websites for subdomains (Google search, US only) and calculated the percentage of searches that lead to subdomains out of the total number of searches. We found out that only 4 out of the 32 exchanges do not use subdomains to increase their search query coverage or for other business purposes.
We see that the 28 websites that use subdomains have an average of 4 subdomains each. 30.2% of all Google searches lead to exchange subdomains, which points to the popularity of subdomains as a tool to increase search query coverage.

We have also analyzed the frequency of the most popular subdomain names for all the 28 exchanges:
Insight #13: The fact that 28 out of the 32 exchanges (87.5%) have subdomains, which account for 30% of all visits, shows the importance of subdomains as a way for a website to rank for more keywords.
Backlinks
When analyzing the exchanges' link profiles, we compared them both in terms of link quantity and quality. To evaluate the quality, we used the Ahrefs Domain Rating. It measures the strength of a website's link profile in comparison with others on a 100-point scale: essentially it's a simplified version of the Ahrefs Rank (AR).

Our analysis using the Ahrefs service has identified the exchanges with the strongest backlink profiles:
We have also identified the leaders by the quantity of backlinks:
Coinbase and Binance are in the top 3 both by the quality and quantity of their inbound links. This shows that it is important to not just ensure that the number of inbound links keeps growing but also that their quality remains high.

The table below lists the average values for different types of backlinks:

Backlinks NoFollow: inbound links that use the nofollow attribute; it is commonly believed that no-follow links do not pass on the 'link juice'.
Backlinks Image: images that serve as inbound links to the website.
Backlinks Redirect: links pointing to the domain via a redirect.
Insight #14: The way the link profile grows influences rankings. Therefore, it is important to prioritize natural backlinks and to make sure that their number increases gradually
Crosslinks
We have formed a list of the 14 key donor domains that contain backlinks to all the 32 reviewed exchanges:
Insight #15: Since the inbound link profile is an important ranking signal, it's important to ensure its quality. In particular, to build a strong link profile, one should analyze one's competitors' backlinks. This list of the 14 referring domains that contain backlinks to all 32 exchanges can serve as a starting point for SEO specialists working for crypto exchanges. It is important to evaluate each page individually, looking at its weight, presence of other links, internal links, subject matter, and GEO.
In-page markup
Google Search uses so-called markup (structured data) to fine-tune and improve search results.

We have checked the home pages of all the websites on our list for structured data using Google's Rich Results Test. The table lists all the exchanges that use markup.
Insight #16: Only 5 out of the 32 exchanges (15.6%) use structured data (including all three exchanges with the largest traffic volume), even though this tool can help a website appear not only in Google text search, but also in Google Assistant, Maps, and other Google services, potentially increasing the number of visitors
SEO optimization
To make a website easier to use and improve its rankings, it should be SEO-optimized. SEO helps search engines to interpret the content and present it correctly in the results.

We have analyzed the home pages of the 32 selected exchanges using the service Seoptimer, which grades the quality of SEO using letters: А+, А, А-, etc. Two exchanges are not included in the table due to the absence of data.
Insight #17: Although all of the websites under review are optimized to a certain extent, only 11 received a high grade from Seoptimer. Five of the best-optimized sites also lead by traffic volume, which indicates the importance of SEO for attracting search traffic
Page load speed
Load speed is an important ranking factor in Google. Using the service Google Page Speed, we identified 3 exchanges with a high or higher-than-average load speed on both desktop and mobile.

The overall speed is graded in points and calculated using the Lighthouse tool. 90 and higher is considered fast, anything between 50 to 90 means an average load speed, while a result below 50 is slow.
Insight #18: None of the top 3 exchanges by trading volume (that is, Huobi, Binance, and OKex) made it into the top 3 by page load speed
E-mail marketing


In order to evaluate the exchanges' email marketing strategies, we registered on each of the platforms and carefully tracked all the emails received from them. The results are summarized in the table below.
Note: we had to use a VPN to register on the exchanges that do not offer services in Belarus. However, two of the exchanges managed to identify and block the registration requests coming from Belarus in spite of the VPN. These are absent from the table.
Registration confirmation is an email that is supposed to arrive immediately after a user completes registration. The first email is the starting message in the onboarding sequence. The emails in this sequence can arrive with varying frequency: from one a day to one every two weeks. Therefore, whenever we received the first onboarding email, we marked the exchange as having an onboarding sequence as a whole.

'Template' means that the exchange uses a single styling scheme for all its emails. Below is an example of a template:
By contrast, here is an email that does not use a template:
Transactional emails inform the user of their own trading transactions or other actions (such as a sign-in, funds withdrawal, etc.). Most of such emails are simple notifications, such as the one in the screenshot:
Newsletters are regular emails containing important news or promotional information.

Trigger emails are automatic messages that are sent after a user initiates a target action but does not complete it. For example, if an exchange customer clicks on the Deposit button several times but fails to make a deposit, they may be sent an automatic email designed to help or motivate them to deposit funds.

Even though trigger emails are deservedly popular with businesses in many industries, crypto exchanges seem to neglect this tool. We did not receive a single trigger message, even in situations where their use was fully justified (such as deposits, KYC, and trading). By the way, most of the exchanges did not send us transactional emails, either.

Roughly half of the exchanges do not have an onboarding sequence, either. This can negatively impact beginner traders because after registering they may not figure out what to do next. However, the greatest damage is done to brand awareness and customer retention when an exchange forgoes relevant welcome emails. The brand loses an opportunity to build a positive image in the eyes of its new customers, who have not formed an opinion of the exchange yet.

Even the standard newsletters and promotional emails are sent rarely and irregularly by many exchanges. Throughout the two-week period of study, we received such newsletters from only half of the platforms. Perhaps these exchanges' marketing executives believe that a newsletter should be sent out only when there is some truly important news, such as a special offer, a new coin listing, etc. In reality, however, the lack of a regular newsletter can have the same negative effect as the absence of an onboarding sequence: the exchange misses out on an opportunity to remind the customers about itself.

Finally, we should note that only 2 of the exchanges on the list do not use double opt-in – an email confirmation mechanism that protects the website from mass bot registrations.
Insight #19: None of the exchanges use trigger emails, and only 50% have an onboarding sequence. This means that exchanges miss valuable opportunities to strengthen their brands and motivate customers to trade
Activity in social media
The data for this section comes from Fanpagekarma, Socialblade, and Popsters. We've evaluated the exchanges' accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube using the standard SMM metrics.

The chart shows the average number of social media followers for all the exchanges year by year:
Twitter
Twitter remains the most important social platform for crypto exchange: all the 32 exchanges on the list have a Twitter account in 2020, while in 2018, AEX, FTX, and Upbit didn't have one.

Bitrue had the fastest-growing Twitter account in 2018-2020: its number of followers increased by a factor of 48. Binance, Bittrex, and Bitfinex lead in terms of the overall follower numbers, just as they did in 2018.

The chart shows the year-on-year Twitter follower increase:
The outlying values for Bitrue in 2018-2019 and AAX in 2019-2020 stem from the fact that these exchanges started from zero in this period. Overall, most exchanges enjoyed a higher year-on-year growth in 2019-2020 than the year before.

The average engagement level on Twitter is traditionally lower than in other social networks, and it remained largely unchanged in the past two years: 0.07% in 2018 and 0.08% in 2020.


Insight #20: Tweeting frequency grew from 3.06 in 2018 to 3.78 in 2020 meaning that half of the exchanges tweet more than three times a day. Only 5 exchanges post new tweets less than once a day: bitFlyer, Bittrex, Coinbase Pro, Coinone, and Upbit
Facebook
Facebook is the second most popular social network among crypto exchanges: it is used by 22 out of the 32 platforms.

The chart shows the year-on-year increase in the number of followers for those exchanges that have maintained an active Facebook account for at least two years.
As shown in the chart, some of the exchanges experienced a net loss of followers, while others increased their audience severalfold, which indicates a successful SMM strategy.

The average engagement has decreased slightly from 0.19% in 2018 to 0.16% in 2020, but this is a natural effect of the growth in follower numbers. Some exchanges have shown impressive results: for instance, Crypto.com managed to keep the engagement level high at over 1% while increasing its Facebook audience by more than 100% in a single year.
Insight #21: The largest players post 7 times a day on average, or 10 times more often than an average exchange
Instagram
Instargram is becoming more popular with exchanges: whereas only 6 out of the top 30 exchanges had an Instagram account listed on their website, now 16 list one.

The chart shows the year-on-year increase in Instagram followers for those exchanges that have had an account for at least two years.
Exchanges are posting more frequently on Instagram than they used to: in 2018, a new post appeared once every two days, whereas now exchanges update their pages almost daily (0.91 post per day).
Insight #22: As the number of subscribers grows, engagement naturally decreases. If in 2018 the average engagement level stood at 1.47%, in 2020 it was down to 0.76%. Nevertheless, Instagram still has the highest engagement among all social networks
YouTube
Youtube's popularity among major exchanges is also increasing. In 2018, only 3 exchanges listed a Youtube channel on their website, compared to 16 in 2020.

The chart shows how the number of YouTube subscribers changed year-on-year (for those exchanges that launched their channels at least two years ago).
The fastest-growing channel was that of Bitkub: its number of subscribers increased by a factor of 20. The top 3 by the absolute number of followers in 2018 and 2020 are shown in the picture below.

Video publishing frequency has grown, just like on other social platforms. In 2018, exchanges posted an average of 2.34 new videos a month, as opposed to 4.33 in 2020.
Insight #23: The decrease in the average engagement level on YouTube has been even more pronounced than on Facebook and Instagram: from 0.51% in 2018 to just 0.19% in 2020
Conclusions #3
Among the 32 exchanges, Coinbase dedicates most attention to search engine optimization, closely followed by eToro, Robinhood, and Binance. These four platforms also lead by traffic volume, which shows the importance of SEO for attracting users and promoting a brand.

We should also point out the relatively lower results shown by Kraken, Bittrex, Crypto.com, Luno, and OKex. They should take optimization more seriously. The three exchanges with the worst SEO performance are Aex, Oceanex, and Bitkub. The rest of the websites under review are not distinguished by a high level of optimization.

The exchanges' social media activity has changed significantly in the past two years. The average number of followers for all exchanges increased across all social networks in 2020: by 12% on Facebook and Twitter (these two networks lead by popularity in both 2018 and 2020), by 135% in Instagram, and by 93% in Youtube. Whereas only 6 exchanges used to list an Instagram account (and 3 had a Youtube channel) in 2018, half (16) of the exchanges on our list have accounts on these platforms now.

Posting frequency for all social platforms has increased. On Twitter, it grew from 3 to roughly 4 a day, on Facebook, from ~1 to ~2, on Instagram from 0.61 (i.e. one post every other day) to 0.91 a day, and on Youtube, from ~5 to 6 videos each month.

Engagement has dropped across all social networks, apart from Twitter, where it has remained largely unchanged. We should point out that this is an expected result of the fast increase in follower numbers.

Even those exchanges that pay attention to optimization and social media often neglect email marketing, thus missing out on an important promotional channel which, considering the size of their audiences, could generate additional revenue and help the exchanges inform their users about their technical features.

The exchanges that do try leverage email marketing mostly are not doing so very efficiently. They bombard their customers with a lot of emails in a short period of time, so that the recipients lose the desire to open them at all.
Part 4. Community management, PR, and referral programs
In the first part of this chapter, we will determine which exchanges most actively interact with their communities on social media (as opposed to simply posting news) and if they offer technical support directly in their social media accounts. We will also discuss how exchange CEOs interact with the community on Twitter and other platforms, providing successful examples of how executives can leverage their status to promote their companies' products.

Next, we will look at the exchanges' PR activity: the number of media placements, their genres, language, and contents. Moreover, we will cite a detailed comment by an expert linguistics professor, Irina Sidorskaya. Finally, we will provide a detailed comparison of various exchanges' referral programs.
Community management
In the previous chapter, we looked at how often exchanges post on social media and how quickly their follower numbers grow. Here, we will analyze how exchanges communicate with their customers using various social platforms. We have compiled a rating of social media channels, grading each exchanges' channels as follows:
Very active: the exchange's representatives constantly interact with users and are ready to solve issues or offer advice straight away
Active: the users mostly communicate among themselves, with the exchange representatives only rarely participating in the dialogue and mostly preferring to post news
Not active: the channel is there, but the exchange representatives do not write anything
As the chart shows, the most popular communication channels are Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, and YouTube.
Twitter
Twitter has long been the key channel used by crypto exchanges to interact with their community: it is used by all the exchanges under review. Back in 2018, 90% of exchanges had a Twitter account. 14 out of the 32 platforms very actively interact with their customers, while the rest use Twitter for announcements and contests.

Virtually all the channels state that tech support is provided only through the official websites to guarantee account security. 11 exchanges have dedicated support accounts, while 19 exchanges have verified accounts (marked with a blue icon). To learn more about how exchanges provide tech support on Twitter, read our recent study.
Facebook
Over 85% of exchanges have a Facebook page, but only 4 are very active. Most trading platforms use Facebook for announcements and contests. Exchange representatives are involved at the minimal level, though those exchanges that have activated personal messages usually respond within an hour.

Many exchanges do not moderate the comments, which leads to a lot of fraudulent messages under the posts. The overall activity and engagement level are much lower than on Telegram.
Telegram
All active chats state that tech support is provided by volunteers and unofficial exchange representatives, while to obtain full tech support, a user needs to create a ticket on the official website: just like on Twitter, this is a way to prevent account fraud.

Binance leads in both interaction quality and the number of active chats (40). Other exchanges with multiple Telegram chats include Huobi (12), Kucoin (19), and Gate (13). All these exchanges divide chats by language and by subject matter (general, tutorials, announcements). This is a great example of community segmentation and management.
The Binance and Huobi chats feature a large number of volunteers who actively help users: Binance volunteers are called Angels, while those of Huobi are called Knights.

The only verified chat (marked by a blue icon) belongs to Crypto.com, though it is not even listed on its official website.
Reddit
10 exchanges use Reddit only for announcements and without trying to engage the audience. Kraken stands out for having two Reddit accounts, one of which is dedicated to tech support.

Overall, even though Reddit is extremely popular in the US, crypto exchanges either are not interested in it, or simply do not know how to use it.
Weibo
Weibo is the Chinese Twitter analog. 18 out of the 32 exchanges use this channel, mostly those originating in Asia. However, only 4 platforms are very active in Weibo. 10 more use it only for announcements without engaging the audience.
VK
6 exchanges use the Russian-language network VK (Vkontakte), but only Binance actively communicates with the users through this channel.
Discord
Only Crypto.com actively uses this channel to engage with its customers. The admins and moderators help users to solve issues and respond fairly quickly (within 10 to 20 minutes).
Blogs
6 out of the 32 exchanges have a blog, but only use it to publish articles (mostly long reads). The posts feature detailed technical information, interface manuals, and trading advice. There is little in terms of activity or engagement.
Insight #24: Bitfinex has a very interesting approach to blogging and social media. It created a community section on the official website, called Pulse. It is similar to Tradingview: users themselves can publish trading signals, articles, and comments.
Exchange executives' activity in social media
We used the following algorithm when identifying the social media accounts belonging to crypto exchange executives:

  1. We examined only CEO accounts, with many CEOs also acting as exchange founders or co-founders;
  2. Linkedin served as the starting point: after identifying the CEO on the list of employees on Linkedin, we searched other social networks for a user with the same name;
  3. Whenever a CEO was not listed on Linkedin, we ran a Google search for 'CEO + (exchange name)', as well as examined the company profile on Crunchbase. To ensure that the account was relevant, we checked its age, looked for mentions in the exchange's official social media accounts, or for the blue verification icon.
It should be noted that many of the links on Crunchbase were outdated. In such cases, we would look for active verified accounts within the social media platform itself.

The result is a list of 29 CEO names, though the number of relevant social media accounts for each executive varies.

The number of CEO accounts has grown compared to our 2018 study, but few of these accounts are truly active.
As for specific social media platforms, only a quarter of the CEOs actively or regularly publish updates on Linkedin. Often they are nothing more than links to articles or reposts of the news published by the official exchange account. CEOs do not write posts about their projects or even promotional posts, even though many have a wide network of contacts and subscribers. Just like in the 2018 study, LinkedIn serves simply as a way to confirm the executive's identity.
Facebook and Instagram are probably still viewed as venues personal content. CEOs' posts on these platforms are mostly designed for their friends rather than for users interested in the CEO's professional activity. Most executives update their FB and Instagram accounts even less frequently than other social networks.

For instance, 6 out of the 10 Facebook pages are updated only a few times a year or not at all, and only 2 CEOs have a business page in addition to or instead of a personal profile. In Instagram, 3 out of the 7 accounts are private.
Compared to 2018, crypto CEOs now share their opinion and expertise more frequently, though when it comes to their exchanges' news, they usually just retweet them rather than explain why a certain piece of news is important or useful.

The average engagement rate is still below 1% for CEO accounts, just like for the official exchange accounts (we have excluded the few abnormally high outlying values). The reasons for low engagement include insufficiently relevant content and the large share of retweets. In addition, almost nobody among the CEOs makes an effort to have a dialogue with the audience. They simply ignore most of the incoming questions, which certainly does not help to increase user loyalty.
There are exceptions, of course, most famously Changpeng Zhao, or CZ, founder and CEO of Binance and one of the world's most famous blockchain entrepreneurs. Compared to our 2018 study, the number of his Twitter followers has grown by a factor of 3 to exceed 627 thousand, while the engagement rate doubled.

All these years Zhao has been tweeting frequently and regularly and responding to questions. He leverages his loyal and constantly growing following to promote Binance products. For instance, he often mentions the BNB coin in his tweets and comment threads. Zhao's followers heed his opinion and follow his reaction to various events.
Another good example of how to interact with the audience is Tyler Winklevoss, co-founder (together with his twin brother) and CEO of Gemini. He often responds to users' comments and mentions in the exchange account. Winklevoss even personally helps users solve technical issues instead of redirecting them to the tech support department.

Sometimes he even asks users to send him a DM so that he can resolve the problem. The result is increased loyalty – not just of the specific user who asked the question, but also of other users who have read the thread.
Insight #25: Changpeng Zhao and Tyler Winklevoss show an example of how a CEO should use Twitter to promote their company. They constantly share their expert opinion and respond to questions
PR activity
We have studied the exchanges' media activity in the period between August 2020 and November 2020.

In the original 2018 study, we looked only at the contents of exchange news and searched for trends of how frequently those exchanges were mentioned by news websites. In this study, we have also identified the following:
the media which publish exchange news most often
the number of articles and news features dedicated to each exchange during those 4 months
the languages used by exchanges in their media placements
the most popular PR genres
Just like in the first study, we did not include news reports about trading volumes, token appreciation, coin listings, or the price of Bitcoin.
Top media website by the number of articles: Cointelegraph. It accounts for 10.8% of all the articles that mention exchanges published during the period under review. Second, and with twice fewer pieces, is Coindesk (5.3%). The leader among the Russian-language websites is Forklog (2.6%), which occupied the fifth position in the overall rating. No other regional crypto medium is featured in the top 10.

Compared to 2018, only Cointelegraph and Forklog retained their positions in the top 10. The rest of the list has changed completely.

Hundreds of smaller media from various countries account for the remaining 67% of all publications.
Top exchange by the number of mentions: Binance. Overall, the biggest exchanges in terms of trading volume tend to be mentioned more often in the news. This is probably because they generate a lot of newsworthy stories and are always in the center of attention.
Top language: English (63.7%). Interestingly, the second most popular exchange news language is Russian with 8.1% of all publications. Even though trading platforms generally don't have Russian-language social media accounts or community channels, Russian-speaking media (especially Forklog) often feature them. Spanish, French, and Turkish account for 4% each.
Top PR genre: news features (87%). Crypto media tend to prefer news stories to other PR formats. It should be noted that there are hardly any articles about PR events or corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs: 99% of all exchange news have to do with their regular operations, including reorganization, incidents, expansion into new markets, statements made by exchange representatives, etc.

Only Binance periodically organizes CSR initiatives (such as aiding those affected by the explosion in Beirut or the Covid-19 campaign).
News articles' content has also changed compared to 2018:
Scandals. Over 20% of the articles about crypto exchanges published in the 4-month period of 2020 had to do with various incidents: hacks, compliance issues, errors made when transferring large sums, etc. (there were much fewer stories of this type in 2018). For instance, there were police raids in the offices of Gate.io and Bithumb; Bitfinex, KuCoin and UpBit were hacked; while Kraken, Bitstamp, Bittrex and Binance were involved in court proceedings or legal scandals.

Markets. Just like in 2018, crypto exchanges continue expanding into new regions: Bittrex opened an office in Bermuda, Gemini started offering services in the UK, while CEX.io applied for a Singapore license. At the same time, some markets temporarily closed to certain exchanges. For example, Binance was blocked in Russia.

Interviews. Exchange executives and representatives continued to give interviews and expert commentary to the crypto media. The CEO of Binance, Changpeng Zhao, retains his leading position by the number of mentions in the media. The CEO of Kraken also often talks to the media. Several interviews with the CEO of FTX have also been published. By contrast, the Huobi CEO was hardly mentioned, unlike in 2018. The exchange executives who began to give more interviews and publish more articles in 2020 include the Huobi Head of Investments, the СТО of Bitfinex, the executive director of bitFlyer and the CMO of Gate.io.

Research. In 2020, exchanges continued to publish studies about the crypto market. For example, OKEx presented an analysis of the Bitcoin market, BitFlyer published a report on the demographics of crypto exchange users, while Kraken offered a BTC price forecast.

Events. For obvious reasons, crypto exchanges organized and attended fewer events in 2020 than in 2018. In late August, Binance hosted a 3-day training event, Huobi and Gate.io organized contests in Turkey, while BitHumb launched a learning platform. A representative of OKEx was one of the keynote speakers at Blockchain Life, while the team of Bitkub attended Money Expo 2020.

Expansion. Exchanges continued buying other business in 2020. FTX acquired Blockfolio, Binance made one $400m purchase and several smaller ones (the exact amounts have not been announced), while Huobi considered buying Bitflyer and Bithumb. While this type of news does not have much of a PR impact, the media are willing to publish such stories, so exchanges can use this type of news to remind the audience about themselves.

Anti-PR. Sometimes the media publish negative news or critical exchange reviews, some of which may be paid for by their competitors. A suitable example is a recent comparison of eToro and Binance (which constantly stresses the advantages of eToro), a statement by OKEx accusing a Chinese website of having published wrong information about it, and a story about alleged token swap manipulations on Crypto.com.

Partnerships. Working with well-known experts is a good PR move for an exchange, and still deservedly popular. For example, Alex Pack started working with Huobi as a corporate investment adviser. It wasn't just experts that crypto exchanges signed contracts in 2020, the popular hip hop artist Akon listed his own cryptocurrency on Bittrex, and the well-known YouTuber Andrei Jikh invested in crypto on Gemini.

Global events. The political and economic events of 2020 clearly influenced crypto exchanges. For example, Bithumb had to close its Seoul office because of Covid-19. However, while 2020 provided many newsworthy subjects (from the pandemic to the US presidential elections to the protests in Belarus), few exchanges tried to benefit from them. Only Poloniex and FTX launched a presidential election prediction contest, while the СЕО of FTX donated several million dollars to Joe Biden's presidential campaign.
EXPERT INSIGHT
Crypto exchanges' media activity is characterized by the same trends as that of financial services businesses as a whole: notable industry events dominate among the news features, expert commentaries are in high demand, there is a direct correlation between the level of media activity and the exchange's status (the higher an exchange is ranked, the more the media are interested in it and the more active the exchange's communication policy), the English language dominates, and more cryptocurrency research is being published. At the same time, we are seeing more articles about negative events, such as hacks, breakdowns, and legal trouble, which seem to be inevitable at certain stages.

On the other hand, exchange representatives are more willing to take on the role of industry experts. They not only offer commentaries on the current events to the media but also publish their own reviews, industry analysis, and forecasts.

From the point of view of the general communication trends, crypto exchanges are at a crossroads. Their first option is to build up expertise in their own sphere and regarding global economy as a whole based on the challenges set by the pandemic. The second way is to acquire a human face, going beyond the limits of their market segment and evolving into a powerful social force that can help people overcome global challenges. This would mean shifting the attention to corporate social responsibility - not in the traditional form of charity initiatives, but through building the CSR concept into the very fabric of their corporate and media policy.
Irina Sidorskaya
Professor at the Belarusian State University
Referral programs
Partner programs are an effective way to attract new customers using the efforts of the existing ones. In the past two years, crypto exchanges have realized the potential of this tool. While in 2018 only 50% of trading platforms had a referral program, 32 out of the 33 exchanges had one in 2020.
25% of exchanges pay fixed rewards and the rest use a mixed scheme that includes rebates on trading fees and fixed bonuses.

Most referral programs feature only one downline level. Users earn rebates only on the trading fees paid by the referrals they had personally invited.
Some exchanges reward not only the user who invites a new customer (sponsor) but also the one who was invited (referral or partner). Often, the referral gets a 10% discount on trading fees.

Apart from regular referral programs, we should point out brand ambassador programs (such as the one promoted by Crypto.com) and partner programs aimed at different customer levels, from friendly social sharing to an investment partnership (e.g. eToro).

The table below lists each program's type, brief terms, number of downline level, and a comparison with the 2018 terms.
Insight #26: Many exchanges are introducing limitations on their referral program terms: either they set the maximum total reward amount, limit the period within which one can earn rewards, or accept only certain categories of users. However, it is often difficult to find detailed terms on the exchange website
Conclusions #4
Few of the crypto exchange CEOs can be called public figures. Most executives still have not realized the potential of their name and position to promote their companies' products. This potential is significant indeed: many CEOs have occupied their position for several years or even co-founded their exchanges, so the customers know and trust them. Personal reputation and recognition can help a CEO expand their exchange's outreach and revenue without any extra expenses, but these executives do not seem to be interested in growing their audience.

A strong personal brand of an executive is very valuable for the company – especially now since customers look to the well-known figures who offer relevant content. Most of these figures are influencers and bloggers, and not CEOs - at least not yet. Still, we believe that in the coming years more and more corporate executives will become interested in personal branding, so we will offer a few simple recommendations:
  • maintain a dialogue and respond to comments: this boosts customer loyalty and motivates users to react more often;
  • if your following is already large, hire a community manager to answer questions on your behalf and save your time;
  • tell stories, not dry facts: content that elicits emotions persuades and engages better;
  • create new content more often, focusing on what your audience is interested in (as opposed to retweeting or reposting something written by others);
  • do all of the above with regularity.
As for the general patterns of interaction between exchanges and their communities, Telegram and Twitter are the most important channels, ensuring quality communication. This is evidenced by the fact that the use of Telegram by crypto exchanges has grown by 34% since 2018, and that major exchanges now have multiple segmented Telegram channels.

Most trading platforms redirect user requests for tech support to their official website and ticketing system, trying to minimize the risk of account fraud. At the same time, few exchanges make the effort to get their key communication channels verified.

Compared to the 2018 study, the percentage of exchanges that have their own YouTube channel has become much higher, but the quality of interactions with the subscribers has not improved. It is the same with Reddit: everyone knows that it is popular and important in the US, but crypto exchanges do not seem to understand how to use it.

Blogs (both self-hosted and hosted on special blogging platforms) are another missed opportunity for interaction. Exchanges write and publish articles, but the readers do not even comment on them.

It should also be noted that out of all the exchanges we have reviewed, only Crypto.com can boast three verified social channels: Telegram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Part 5. Key results and insights
Fintech & blockchain companies know virtually no geographic limits, either physical or demographic. Thus, market players – including crypto exchanges – need to keep developing new products, strengthening their brand, and perfecting their marketing and communication strategies. This is the only way to attract new audiences and remain competitive amid the incessant market struggle and rivalries. In the process, they can leverage the insights from the present study by BDC Consulting.
Availability
Users from virtually all countries in the world can now trade crypto on exchanges. The majority of large trading platforms are available in 150+ countries. This means a new level of competition among exchanges: winning over the target audience now requires the use of totally different tools.
Security
Security is one of the key factors influencing a trader's choice, and exchanges view it as a priority. Since 2018, none of the exchanges under study have become the victim of a successful hack or theft resulting in a loss of customer funds. When users do lose money to hackers, it is usually due to their own carelessness or lack of knowledge.
Native tokens
Exchanges are still actively developing their ecosystems and native tokens. The ongoing appreciation of the major native exchange tokens is a sign of their popularity and growing demand and the higher the price, the larger the capitalization of the exchanges issuing those tokens. The tokens that grew most between November 2018 and November 2020 are those issued by Huobi, Crypto.com, Binance, and FTX. All of them have gained over 100%. For comparison: Bitcoin has appreciated by 213% in the same period.
Trading dynamics
Trading volumes grew rapidly in 2019 and 2020 following a sharp correction in 2018. For instance, Huobi's share in the total market volume doubled in 2020 (reaching 28,93% as opposed to 14,24% a year earlier).
Priority features
More than 70% of exchanges offer fiat on-off ramps that support several currencies and 65% accept credit cards. A mobile app is now considered indispensable for an exchange, helping them convert new users into paying regulars.
Traffic & SEO
Direct traffic accounts for over 70% of the visits to exchange websites. By contrast, referral traffic accounts for just 8%. Interestingly, the leading websites (Binance, Robinhood, and Coinbase) receive over 35 million visitors every month – 1,100% higher than the average traffic volume among the remaining exchanges. Apart from that, exchanges should pay extra attention to SEO optimization: only 4 out of the 32 websites feature quality SEO.
Email marketing
Few exchanges have fully explored the potential of email marketing. 50% of exchanges do not have an onboarding email sequence. Moreover, we have not identified any trigger emails among those sent by exchanges. This can negatively affect customer retention and brand awareness, though the insufficient use of email marketing can be linked to the need to limit the load on the servers and the amount of spam directed at the domain.
PR
Crypto exchanges' media activity follows the common patterns of the finance industry: most of their published content is linked to current events. They seek to include comments by experts and the number of placements directly correlates with an exchange's status.