Audience metrics and which ones publishers should focus on continue to matter greatly—and only get more varied as our platforms advance. It used to be having a high open rate and few unsubscribes would allow you a good night’s sleep. Now time-on-page, page views, scroll depth, article scores, shares, printouts and even absence can all keep you up at night. We asked two leading publishers to weigh in
“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,” Davide Savenije, editor in chief for Industry Dive and its stable of 23 newsletters, told me in an email recently. “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.”
As Savenije and the other leading publisher I turned to for this article, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, both indicate, it is not just one metric that can tell the whole story. It’s more of a combo platter, depending on your needs and goals—be it building subscriber loyalty, adding new members/subscribers, increasing engagement, moving people to and within your site, or all of the above.
“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 spent has gained traction throughout the industry. 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.”
Finding the metric that most ties into reader/subscriber loyalty would seem to be the gold standard. Mediahuis, a huge international media company in Antwerp, Belgium, also found that “aggregated time spent on the site by individual readers correlated with the likelihood they converted to paid subscribers and renewed.” Other research confirms this, though visit frequency often tops even time.
Of course, metrics do not tell all. Industry Dive goes the extra mile, setting up “measurement and feedback loops” to try to answer further questions about value and loyalty, quality of their coverage and even which readers you should covet most.
“At the same time that we use website and other metrics to tell us important specific things about readers, I think there is a big analytics gap in the journalism world in terms of measuring the qualitative value of your relationship with readers outside of these specific contexts,” Savenije wrote. “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. We have a data analytics team within our audience department that helps us build measurement tools around these questions, and develop custom dashboards to make them easy for our editorial teams to interpret and glean actionable takeaways from them.”
That last part is music to an editorial person’s ears. In 2019, the Financial Times, Money-Media’s parent company, developed a Quality Reads metric that “measured page views qualified by the threshold of time and scroll depth,” writes INMA. “For a page view to be counted as a Quality Read, the reader needs to spend at least 50% time required to read the whole article estimated by the number of words and scroll to at least 50% of the page’s length.”
We will continue to cover this important topic. What are your go-to metrics? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!