AOL analytics

AOL logo - old1 In the late 1990s, “America Online” was the shiny new company everyone watched, feared and tried to copy.  Just “AOL” now, it’s hardly as fresh or inspiring. With its new CEO, logos and use of web analytics to select the stories it covers and evaluating its reporters, has AOL once again become a news organization to watch?

AOL logo - new AOL’s announcement that it will employ “judicious use of Web-analytics software” sparked the expected flutter of coverage.  It’s admitted to using data to inform (dictate?) news decisions, so you could be led to believe that AOL is adopting a true audience-based approach.  However, after reading the Feb. 22 story in BusinessWeek and the reactions gathered by Media Post News, it seems like AOL is still using a traditional advertising-based mass media strategy.  It’s still trying to be all things to all people.  It’s just using web analytics to decide what those things are.

“Audience growth and audience engagement have to be the things that we judge the most off of our journalist investments,” AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is quoted as saying.  So far, so good.

AOL logo - swirl Armstrong also said that “brand ads should be a lot bigger on the Internet today,” talking about how online advertising revenue should pick up.  But there was no mention about AOL’s own brand strategy, something that would answer the question of “What is AOL?” for audiences and advertisers once and for all.  On which niches will it focus?  How much of its content will be unique and compelling enough to those niche audiences so that they’ll come back regularly?

Patricia Handschiegel, who blogs as Daily Patricia, sums it nicely:

AOL logo - tongue “The right approach to the content business is to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE, or
the people that come to your site, and create a product for THEM. AOL’s
approach is clearly not centered on this….it’ll drive up page views and therefore, revenue but that’s not
likely to last as the industry becomes more analytics savvy. Today, a
million uniques with zero session times, high bounce rate and no repeat
visitors isn’t seen as a sign of a lack of audience but in the not too
distant future it will.”

I haven’t researched AOL myself, so I don’t know if all of the details in the BusinessWeek and Media Post News stories really reflect what AOL is doing.  So I’ll just note some some things news orgs should think about when using web analytics to inform news decisions and evaluate journalists.

  • Evaluating success (either a site’s or a journalist’s) by total page views doesn’t work. A large number of page views may just indicate visitors got there by mistake or clicked around trying to find something.   Plus, dynamic content (Flash, etc.) will not be counted as page views. Page views can be a useful metric, but only when combined with other metrics – such as ratios – that give context.
  • Engagement can’t be determined by web traffic or behavioral data alone.  Attitudinal research is essential to find out why or why don’t people come to a site regularly, what they want and what they’re not finding.
  • If journalists are going to be held accountable for web traffic and audience engagement will they also have control over the factors that drive traffic, such as design, navigation and marketing? Or will they just submit their stories and hope for the best?
  • Money “AOL is even considering sharing a portion of quarterly profits with staffers whose work fetches the most page views.”  BusinessWeek

How will traffic goals be set?  If journalists will be rewarded for generating “traffic” (however it’s defined), will they be fired if they don’t? Will the benchmarks or starting points – and the time journalists have to reach the required traffic levels – be based on whether a topic is already established or whether it’s one a news org wants to nurture and grow because the topic is essential to achieving its strategy?

  • “Tacked to the newsroom walls in AOL’s downtown Manhattan headquarters are pages and pages of Web traffic data.” BusinessWeek Stacks.bill.pages.giUh, this would cause even me to shut down.  It’s definitely not “judicious use of Web-analytics software.”  Does AOL have a few key performance indicators that everyone understands and on which they can focus as a team?

    Software and reports don’t make decisions; people do. Successful use of web analytics depends on the decision-makers understanding and using the information correctly.  If news orgs believe the success of their websites depends on being truly audience-focused then they must also ensure the analytical resources and processes are there as well.

AOL logo - fish AOL may stumble again but at least it’s trying something different.  I look forward to learning from AOL whether it succeeds or fails.

Video metrics for everyone!

YouTube‘s become a verb and a household name, but I’ll always see it as an organization that’s brought metrics into the lives of the common people (those who have broadband Internet, anyway).  The “Most Popular” and “Featured Videos” are seen worldwide, Most Popular-YouTube sometimes garnering millions of views.  “Hey, did you see….” is usually accompanied by something like “…and it has x million views on YouTube!”

Number of views is great for little else other than bragging rights.  It’s one of the  “famous” metrics (web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik‘s term) that “are staring you in the face when you crack open any analytics tool” but “barely contain any insight.”

Yep, for anyone in the content business, number of views is right up there with hall of famers number of page views and monthly unique visitors.

YouTube has pushed all of its account holders  – no matter how amateur – to use meaningful metrics. In March 2008 it launched Insight, its “video analytics tool for all users,”Insight-YouTube along with some almost-preachy instructions on how to use metrics to get more people to watch your videos and, of course, come more often to YouTube.

The Insight tool allows you to track “community engagements” (there’s that word again) in terms of ratings, comments, and favorites.   YouTube doesn’t want you to settle for people just watching your video.  People have to show, in a measurable way, that they not only watched it but also reacted to it.

At the very least people should give a star rating (one is bad, five is good).  Rating is easy, quick and anonymous.  Tagging a video as a favorite is the next rung.  And if they’re really engaged, they’ll leave comments.  RatingsYouTube

But, as anyone who’s ever spent any time at all on YouTube knows, many comments are spam, obscene and irrelevant – just noise.  But the value of social media metrics is in looking beyond what James Kobelius in Information Management points out is an “often low and laughable” signal-to-noise ratio.

Kobelius notes that “if you crawl, correlate, categorize, mine, and explore it with the
right tools….[this unstructured information] can yield unexpected insights….The intelligence value of any individual tweet [or comment] in isolation is
negligible….Intelligence emerges from the aggregate.”

If you can stomach a few obscenities, look at this thought in Encyclopaedia Dramatica about YouTube view fraud and how the ratio of VPC, or views per comment, “is the most accurate way to determine if anyone” cares.  “A high VPC usually means view fraud has been committed.”

The example in ED shows that a video with 136,097 views and 3,529 comments has a VPC of 38.7, a low number that indicates this is a video “that people actually find funny.”  The video with 296,413 views, 541 comments and thus a VPC of 547.9 is probably something nobody really cares about.

I calculated some VPCs from this week’s “Most Popular” Haiti video-YouTubevideos and came up with some numbers that I don’t know what to do with yet.  To see if VPC can be used as a key performance indicator, I’ll need to calculate VPCs and crawl through the cacophony of a variety of news videos.  VPC may never be  “famous,” but it might be insightful.

A world record – so what?

I guess I'm proud to say that I contributed one of the reported 45-million-plus views to the Evian Roller Babies video ad, which is touted by the Guinness Book of World Records as "the most viewed online advertisement in history."  

Picture 1 I can't find any verification from Guinness itself on the web.  OK, I didn't look that hard, and I didn't contact Guinness.  I didn't think it was worth much effort because this record – like so many other Guinness records -  is one of those "so what" numbers – mildly amusing, sort of astounding, and utterly useless.

Mashable's Ben Parr, saying that "millions" remembered and "actively discussed" this "critically acclaimed" ad,  thinks that "any brand will take those numbers."

If I were Evian, the only numbers I would take are those in dollars, euros, yen, pounds and pesos and the like.  I agree with David Berkowitz in Social Media Insider:  "I have yet to see any coverage of the record
that mentions Evian's market share or any other success metric from the
brand's perspective. Maybe a needle moved, maybe nothing happened, but
it's hardly a clear-cut case that a viral ad means it's successful."

It's a highly watchable, entertaining video, but it haPicture 3rdly embeds "Evian" in my brain or makes me want to buy it.  What do roller-skating babies have to do with mineral water?  The babies don't even drink Evian in the video – they just skate around the bottles.  I guess the Evian's tag at the end, "Live Young," ties it all together.

 And of course there are quibbles how video ads are counted, and how the 45-million figure came about.  Apparently it was a combination of YouTube, Nielsen, Ad Age and Visual Measures.  Because the video was embedded in many places, you can't just look at the number of views on YouTube, which right now is showing about 11 million views. 

Whatever.  It really doesn't matter.

140 characters of engagement

I’ve just gotten back from the 140 Characters Conference in LA where the message, loud and clear and 10 minutes per speaker at a time, was that it’s the quality of your followers that matters, not the quantity.

More reinforcement:  Twitter’s new list function is already prompting “mass unfollowings” (thanks to Mary McKinnon/@bestwebstrategy for this link).

Picture 5 The first #140conf in New York in June was all about the unique communities that Twitter inspired.  The dominant sponsor was Hootsuite, personified by a large owl walking around hugging people.  Ann Curry duked it out with Rick Sanchez.  Wyclef Jean showed up, late of course, but illustrating the importance of authencity.  Attendees bonded over the duct-taped power outlets.

Five months later, it appears that Twitter has…matured.  The speakers in LA weren’t giddy.  The lead sponsor was Kodak, represented by CMO Jeffrey HayzlettPicture 2, a glossy brochure touting Kodak’s “convergence media tactics” and coupons for 15 percent off Kodak products. You can’t have either duct tape or power outlets in the Kodak Theatre (where the Academy Awards are held) so the crowd was often bigger in the lobby than in the auditorium.

I still had fun at #140conf LA – it is Twitter, after all – but the biz talk was pervasive:  strategy, goals, objectives, processes, systems, results, the four Ps and the four Es, one of which was, of course, engagement.

Continue reading “140 characters of engagement”

The number’s good except when it’s not

Based on a Hitwise report, Online Media Daily reported that Twitter’s “torrid growth has cooled since April.”  But the Hitwise number is deeply flawed – it doesn’t include traffic from “mobile and application-driven traffic.”

In other words, Hitwise’s report is based solely on traffic from Twitter’s web site.  It doesn’t include traffic from smartphones and applications like TweetDeck.   Hitwise’s report is just not that useful because it doesn’t include traffic from the devices and software that have made Twitter ubiquitous and easy to use, and which probably have contributed greatly to Twitter’s growth.

I say “probably” because we just don’t know one way or another.  Everyone’s still trying to figure out how to measure mobile web use.  It’s hard because there are multiple carriers and devices.  But just because a number is hard to get doesn’t mean we should use a number whose only virtue is that it’s easy.

 

Niche audience = $10 million

Nikki Finke 10-7-09“…Mail.com Media Corporation…purchased Deadline Hollywood Daily for upward of ten million dollars….It is an ambitious plan for a site that attracts a few hundred thousand unique visitors per month – but then many in that group check the site ten times a day.” “Call Me,” by Tad Friend, The New Yorker, Oct. 12, 2009

This is a telling statement, despite mixing up the use of “monthly unique visitors” with “daily unique visitors.”

It doesn’t matter how many millions of “monthly unique visitors” a news site has.  The value of a site is based on the ratio of visits per weekly or daily unique visitor.

It also matters who those unique visitors are.  Deadline Hollywood Daily is a must-read, not just for the hangers-on in the “Industry” but for studio and agency executives at the highest levels.

Nikki Finke, the diva extraordinaire without whom DHD would be worth nearly nothing, posts 24/7, multiple times a day.  So, the number of visits per daily unique visitor is the more appropriate metric.  The number of monthly unique visitors is a “so what” number – useless.

What does “traffic” mean?

As heard from Martin Nisenholtz at the OMMA Global conference last week, Twitter drives 10 percent of the New York Times’ traffic.

What does this mean?  Is it 10 percent of page views?  Unique visitors?  Visits?  Page views per visit?  Visits per unique visitor?

Nisenholtz, the senior VP of the NYT’s digital operations, reportedly said that the NYT’s Twitter account has 1.8 million followers and growing.

OK.  That’s a nice big number.  But it doesn’t tell you anything about whether any of those followers – or anyone who got to the site through Twitter – really engaged with the site.  How many followers go to the NYT site?  How often?

I have no doubt Twitter is an important source of traffic – however it’s defined – for the NYT and other news sites.  Let’s take the time to dig deeper so we really understand Twitter’s impact.