“How do you change your habits after you’ve learned about analytics?” asked Vidisha Priyanka (pictured), visiting instructor at the University of South Florida and a former interactive learning manager for the famed Poynter Institute, in a discussion we had on content metrics here a couple years ago. “How will it change your daily habit of writing and reporting and engaging your audience? How do you understand when your audience is trying to engage with you? And who is your audience?”
Most editorial people are not data and analytics experts, myself included. Yet as our world becomes more and more digital, so many more metrics have become available to us. It used to be having a high open rate and few unsubscribes would allow you a good night’s sleep. Now page views, time on page—the trendiest metric—scroll depth, shares, printouts and even absence between visits can each keep us up at night. (Absence may make the heart grow fonder but perhaps not the reader.)
“And what about drop-off rates?” Priyanka continued. “I’m reading an article that you’ve written and you poured your heart and soul in it, but people are dropping off after four paragraphs. So how do we improve your writing or presenting skills? What do you do with multimedia content? How do you add a visual or a graphic? So we talk about analytics not just as numbers, but analytics as a decision-making tool.”
What triggered my recollection of Priyanka was an email exchange this week with Davide Savenije, editor in chief for one of the fastest growing publishers, AM&P Network member Industry Dive and its 23 newsletters. Like Priyanka, they view analytics and metrics as a way to get better.
“We have a data analytics team within our audience department that helps us build measurement tools around [our major reader] questions, and develop custom dashboards to make [the data] easy for our editorial teams to interpret and glean actionable takeaways from them,” Savenije wrote.
That should be music to an editorial person’s ears. Both Savenije and the other leading publisher I turned to for this article, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a Financial Times company, both indicate that it is not just one metric that tells the whole story. And how you measure your metrics must also be tied to your goals—be it building member loyalty, increasing engagement, getting members to events, or all of the above.
“We still look at open rates for our newsletters and several other metrics—but it is important to understand what these metrics actually tell you, and what they don’t,” Savenije wrote. “If you understand your goals, you can figure out which metrics you need to pay attention and in what ways they are relevant—it’s never a single golden metric; for us, it’s a composite picture of multiple metrics that fill in different parts of the picture and that are tailored to your goals. These metrics provide you with a feedback loop from your readers that helps you guide strategy and adapt where necessary as you see the results. Benchmarking is also important so that you have context on what the numbers mean.”
The Growth of Time-on-Page
Money-Media has several verticals and has always focused intently on metrics, infographics and visual storytelling. Yet the top of their website still reflects their guiding principle: “Content Is King.”
“We’re looking at time-on-page in addition to page views to assess which articles are resonating with readers,” Fink wrote to me. “It’s useful to look at average time and total time for each article. This reveals that the article with the most clicks doesn’t always get the most time. That’s important because users put a greater value on the amount of time they spend with your content, than the number of times they click on it.
“We are also looking at scroll depth (i.e. how far down the page readers scroll). This gives a similar insight to time-on-page. We are working to develop a formula that combines page views, time-on-page and other user actions (print, save, share, etc.) into a single metric. My plan is to shift our internal focus on this new engagement metric, since it is more valid than one-dimensional page views.”
A recent article on INMA titled, Should Time Replace Pageviews as the North Star Audience Metric?, showed that time-on-page has gained traction all over. At Facebook, time spent helps rank the News Feed. At Google, it informs search results. “At Netflix and Spotify, play time guides content, product and marketing decisions.” A Netflix study found that “the total hours spent watching was the most predictive for member retention, well ahead of movie or show ratings.”
For Savenije, there’s so much more than just metrics to determine if their content is accomplishing what it needs to.
“There are many important questions that the above metrics do not provide clear answers to. What value do readers believe you provide? How loyal are your readers? Where do readers see you vs. your competition? Are some readers more important to your editorial model than others, and how do you measure your relationship with them? What do readers think about the quality of your coverage? Are they satisfied with your product?
“At Industry Dive, we have worked to build up measurement and feedback loops to help us answer these important questions.”