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‘We Found That This Coverage Was Helping to Convert’; How ACS Uses Metrics to Grow Their Audience

For months, we have heard of excellent COVID coverage from association publishers across the topical spectrum—medical, financial, psychological, etc. But we all knew that at some point, the readership bump that was gained by this coverage would have to be converted into a longer-term commitment.

In a recent webinar hosted by our AM&P Network—titled The New Content Metrics: How Publishers Are Measuring Engagement and Using That to Grow—two editors/digital strategists from the American Chemical Society (ACS) joined two other leading editors from B2B publishers to talk how metrics and engagement are helping retain that bump—and, in general, help grow their organization’s audience.

“When we covered the COVID-19 pandemic, as the science news organization, [we knew] this is part of our mission,” said Sondra Hadden, manager, C&EN (Chemical & Engineering News) audience development, ACS. “We put the articles in front of the paywall so it was free to read. And our site traffic exploded. We had very viral articles routinely, and this helped us.

“Our loyalty report really helped us measure whether people coming from search and social were able to move down this funnel of loyalty, and [we could] convince them to keep reading. We found time and again, month after month, that this was true—that this coverage was helping to convert in that sense. So that was a really good data point to go back to our editorial team and let them know.”

The “loyalty” refers to a loyalty dashboard that they launched early in 2020. This is a completely free resource, Hadden said, from the Center for Cooperative Media. “It’s less about new metrics and absolutely more about categorizing your site user in a different way based off of frequency to the site,” she said.

The different buckets are: casual readers for someone who comes once a month and that’s it; prospective loyalists who make 2-5 visits a month; and brand lovers who visit six times a month. “For us, those are the metrics of the numbers that the report actually came with. It aligns very nicely with our metered paywall article limit, so we didn’t change that.”

This helped ACS measure success beyond the simple page view. It told them who is reading, how are they reading and where they come in from. Still, while coverage of the pandemic brought in so many readers, ACS had to wonder at what point fatigue might set in, and people would need a pause. But it never really happened.

“All of the past year that we’ve been doing this reporting, the coverage is still a top read amongst all these different buckets of people,” Hadden said.

While Hadden painted that overall picture, Dorea Reeser, senior audience engagement editor, C&EN, ACS, presented more of the day-to-day picture from their daily news meetings. Every morning she pulls metrics on how stories are performing on their website, as well as on social media, and collects it in a spreadsheet.

“I collect the obvious things like date, story head links, story type, but the data that I pull also includes social media engagement,” Reeser said. “We have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and a LinkedIn one coming. I also take notes on how [stories] rank in terms of page views and where [visitors] are coming from because certain web referral sources are more valuable than others.”

Reeser, and the other speakers, agreed that time on page is another great engagement metric. “The benefit of doing this every day and manually gives us insight into what content, in addition to our viral content, is doing well. That content may go crazy from search, and while that’s great it’s not necessarily high engagement. Not all those people are going to become brand lovers and loyalists.”

All this data helps to inform ACS staff each day on what content to post. Are there any pieces of content that they should resurface more in social media? And is there something that they want to make sure not to overlook for their weekly newsletter? “It’s important that we give them the content that we’ve seen that people want and our readers want in various spaces,” Reeser said.

Aside from COVID-related content, Hadden spoke about one of their large editorial packages called C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch. It wasn’t getting a lot of metric love, so they wondered if just judging it by page views was doing a disservice.

“Writers were asking about it,” Hadden said. “It’s a huge effort; there’s a nominations component to it, creative, everyone’s involved in this package. By having the loyalty report and being able to drill down into behavior a little bit better, we were able to tell that, yes, maybe it wasn’t a viral article in that sense, but our brand lovers are engaging with us there when it’s released.

“They are reading it and spending time with it, and our brand lovers are members so we’re serving that audience that we as a society [can classify] as a member benefit. So this report did help us do better than the previous concept of defining loyalty, and turning our non-member readership into becoming members.”

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A Combo Platter of Metrics and Knowing Your Goals May Be Best, Two Leaders Say

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.”

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 rlevine@siia.net. Thanks!

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‘Analytics as a Decision-Making Tool’; Metrics Work Best as a Means to a Well Thought Out End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.”