Time to bid adieu to the pageview

The Internet has been both a blessing and a curse for content marketers. The beauty of it is that it allows us to track nearly everything. The downside? Tracking everything requires us to ingest, digest and make sense of mass amounts of data. We have more answers today than we did a few years ago, but there are still a lot of questions around how best to measure content. So, what metrics matter? Herein, we’ll explore why one metric in particular is going the way of the dodo bird and which others are gaining in significance. Since the dawn of the Internet, the primary metric for measuring the effectiveness of content has been the pageview, previously known as “hits”. A large volume of eyeballs on your content means that it’s working, right? Or does it? What do those views actually mean? Do they translate to meaningful business objectives?

Let’s start by understanding the primary goal of content marketing, which is to gain and hold consumers’ attention. More specifically: brand awareness, brand loyalty, customer education, and customer engagement.

Marketers use content to tell stories. Those stories communicate relevant, interesting information to their audiences with the purpose of making their lives better. This communication aids consumers through the purchase cycle by connecting with them during the consideration and evaluation stages and re-engaging with them after the purchase with the goal of building brand loyalty.

So, what does the pageview tell us about brand awareness or customer engagement or what impact the content had on their audience? Does the fact that a blog post received 100,000 pageviews correlate to brand loyalty? Not exactly.

We all know publishers can inflate pageviews on their sites through a variety of legitimate – albeit annoying – means. We’ve all seen the 1,000 word post split up into 5 pages or the 20-image slideshow that refreshes the page with each new image.

In addition, just because a page loaded on your site, doesn’t mean a real human being viewed it. The Wall Street Journal reports that 36% of all Web traffic is considered fraudulent or bot-traffic.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that the article was paginated appropriately and a real human landed on that page. How do we know they read the article or found it valuable? The reader may have left the page within a few seconds of getting there – or perhaps they read it, but didn’t find it useful. The pageview alone isn’t going to tell us any worthwhile information in regards to these questions.

So, with that, let’s bid adieu to the pageview as being the primary metric for measuring content. The sun has set on it being a valuable metric by which to glean efficacy and success of content. It is time to start measuring engagement instead.

So, how exactly do we do that? What metrics are good proxies for customer engagement and brand loyalty? This isn’t a perfect science quite yet, but the following metrics translate most closely to what we’re really trying to measure.

Time Spent

How much time a reader spends on a page is a good proxy for whether they are engaged with that content and actually reading it. An article might have 20,000 pageviews, but if the average time spent is only 15 seconds, there is likely not much reading going on – and not much value to be placed on those 20,000 views. In the opposite scenario in which the article only receives 500 pageviews, but time spent is well over 3 minutes, we’re generally able to ascertain that the content was substantive and relevant to that smaller pool of readers.

Many media companies are moving away from the pageview altogether and placing more importance on time spent. But Upworthy is taking it to another level by measuring what they call Attention Minutes. This incorporates deeper analytics into time spent, including scroll-depth, mouse-movement, video player signals, and which browser tab is currently open. This gets us to a point where we can track activity within content and provides useful information around engagement.

Return Visitors

First dates are great, but second, third and fourth dates are where the real bonding begins. Going back to the primary goal of content marketing – which is to gain and hold consumers’ attention; what we really want is for consumers to keep coming back again and again. The return visitors metric allows us to understand just how compelling our content is to our audiences and whether they are interested in building that long-term relationship. A brand can’t do that with fluff or promotional content alone – it needs to continually share thought-provoking, educational, or entertaining pieces that benefit the consumer and creates a strong connection with them.

Social Shares

At face value, most deem social sharing as one of the strongest measures of endorsement for a brand. That being said, there is conflicting information about how much attention people pay toward content they share. Chartbeat’s data shows that the most-shared articles are the least read, while Upworthy finds that users who read to the end of the article are most likely to share it.

Despite the inconsistent data, I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater quite yet. The act of sharing content means that something grabbed the user’s attention – whether it was the headline, the beginning of the video, or the last sentence of the article. And that, in and of itself is meaningful.

All of these metrics are deeply interconnected and shouldn’t be analyzed in silos, but rather looked at jointly to begin to paint the picture of audience engagement. If you can captivate a consumer’s attention with content of value, they’ll likely return to read more and share it with their friends. In the end, it’s not about generating a massive number of views, but rather connecting with individuals and working to build meaningful, long-term relationships with them.      

 

Author: Jennifer Flanagan, Sr. Director Marketing Solutions