Count “active” users, not totals

It’s tempting to measure success by the total number of unique visitors.  Total UVs, total registered users, total paid subscribers – they are all nice, round numbers bandied and crowed about in the newsroom and in the media, just like circulation.

Circulation (or readership) and the circulation penetration (the percent of the households reached) are the correct success metrics for mass media print, partly because they’re drivers behind advertising decisions.

Online is a niche, interactive medium.  It’s far more important to measure the number of active users – however you define “active” – and what those active users did or didn’t do.

As Neil Mason in ClickZ writes, measuring only total users is “a case of be careful what you measure, because what you measure is what you get.

“Because the business was focused on measuring registrations, the drive was to generate as many registered users as possible, irrespective of
the quality of those registrations and whether they were likely to actually do anything valuable on the site.”

Totals do no harm.  But they don’t tell you what you need to retain your audiences and attract new ones.