Archive for ‘Attitudinal research’

September 27, 2010

Believing in time-on-site

A Sept. 12 Pew Center study found that “Americans are spending more time following the news than over the past decade.”  Great news – or is this yet another misleading key performance indicator, as my previous blog post about time spent on site might suggest?

No – I like the Pew Center study.  It’s a study of attitudes and feelings.  Good old-fashioned survey research (with all of its mind-numbing statistical sampling), is an essential component of web analytics.  Web site traffic data is audience behavior – the “what.” News orgs have to havPew Research Centere attitudinal research to understand the “why” so they can attract audiences that aren’t coming to their sites.

The data you get from Google Analytics or Omniture is enticing, isn’t it?  (Work with me, here….)  Oh wow, we can track every click!  Ah, yes, we can track every click – but we can ONLY track clicks on OUR site, not on anyone else’s.

A time-on-site calculation can only be harvested for you if someone clicks on a page in your site and generates a page view that’s counted by your Google Analytics/Omniture account.  Time-on-site is the time in between the first page clicked on YOUR site and the last page clicked on YOUR site.

This means:

1.   If someone clicks on YOUR site and then immediately goes to another site (a bounce),
Picture 8 it’s not included by Google Analytics/Omniture in the time- on-site calculation.  It’s like it never existed, time-on-site-wise.

It IS counted as one visit and as one page view.  So that means that all of those people who come to your site regularly (you know, the ones we really like) just to get the latest on a story aren’t counted in time-on-site – and they should be.

2.    If someone is on his/her third page in your site and opens another tab anPicture 5d goes to another site for twenty minutes before returning to your site and clicking on another two pages, those twenty minutes are included in time-on-site – and they shouldn’t be.

3.    The time a person spends on the last page of your site isn’t counted.
Picture 7 If someone clicks through a few pages on your site and spends 15
minutes utterly absorbed in a story before leaving your site to go pay
bills online, those 15 minutes aren’t included in time-on-site – and they should be.

So, time-spent-on-site is always either over- or under-counted.  And you’ll never know which – this makes this metric utterly unreliable as an indicator of success or failure.  So you can’t make a decision with this data because you can’t know whether your action – a section added, the number of long-form videos reduced – caused time spent to go up or down.

More importantly, these days it really doesn’t matter how much time people  actually spend on a news site.  What matters much, much more is whether people are engaged with the news, whether they believe news sites are an essential component to their lives, so much so that they come back repeatedly, rate a story with five stars, leave comments, click on an ad, and otherwise use the site.  It doesn’t matter whether they spend three seconds or three hours.
More say they graze for news

That’s what makes the Pew Center finding so exciting (surely you’re still with me on how great web analytics is?).  People actually said they’re spending more time with the news now than they did a decade ago.  It doesn’t matter whether they actually are (!) – they believe they are.
I wish every news org could afford its own Pew Center-like attitudinal research study so it could track how engaged its own targeted audiences are (or aren’t), and to understand how to get and retain new audiences.  The information wouldn’t always be pretty, but at least it would be data that could make a difference.

August 3, 2009

Traffic spikes aren’t always good news

Here’s a good point about interpreting high traffic spikes.  It’s from Google’s Brett Crosby, as reported by Online Media Daily.

If you get a sudden bump in visits due to a breaking news event, don’t celebrate until you look at the time of day of the spikes, the timing of your competitor’s posts, and your bounce rates.

Your competitor might have posted before you did.  And if your competitor had better coverage, your bounce rate would probably reflect it.

Then, use attitudinal research to gauge whether the traffic spikes led to building audiences in the long run.  For example, you can survey people to see whether they think your site “always has the latest news about [a topic] before anyone else.”

Be sure to include a healthy sample of non-users and light users in your surveys.  It will be more time-consuming and expensive – and perhaps painful.  But listening only to your current users through online pop-up surveys won’t give you the insight you need to grow online audiences.

May 27, 2009

Measures of news brand equity now need to include social media

 

A Deloitte survey about ethics in the workplace (nicely summarized by eMarketer) illustrates the need for news organizations to measure how their social media activities are affecting their brand.

The survey points out that 74 percent of employees think it’s easy to damage a company’s reputation on social media.  However, 53 percent feel their online profiles are none of their employers’ business, and 49 percent say that a company policy wouldn’t change their behavior.

News orgs’ attitudinal surveys should now try to assess whether a news org’s Facebook groups, Twitter tweets and the like – whether they are run by the news org or by a reporter who’s known in the community – have any impact on traditional brand equity measures such as “provides me with information I can’t easily get elsewhere,” “gives me the most complete understanding of issues and events,” “is more credible and trustworthy than most other news sources” and “is the number one source for news and information for [fill in topic].”

These surveys were traditionally done annually, but now should be done much more often.  They definitely should be done to benchmark and thus gauge the success or failure of any major social media project.

The Deloitte survey also raises the question about whether policies (e.g., Dow Jones’ Twitter conduct rules) that attempt to regulate employees’ social media activities have any effect.

Another question:  The Deloitte survey points out that 22 percent of business executives would like to use social media, but don’t know how.  Is this an opportunity for news orgs?