Total unique visitors and paid content

Because it’s easy to gather and it looks like circulation and readership, the number of monthly unique visitors continues to be a key indicator of online success for news orgs.  This is really dangerous, especially if used to develop news business models.

The total number of monthly UVs just doesn’t give any information about how engaged audiences are.  Let’s say you have 100 million monthly uniques, as paidContent.org reports the new Steve Brill Journalism Online venture is aiming for.

This number doesn’t tell you whether those 100 million of those visitors visited once or 10 times, or whether they went to one page or to 20.

You really need to know the level of engagement to sell online advertising.  And, you really need to know how engaged people are if your business model depends on paid subscribers or content.

According to paidContent.org, Journalism Online is counting on about 10 percent of its news affiliates’ audiences to pay for content.  Sounds like a realistic, reasonable number, right?

No, it’s faulty business logic.  Simply assuming a small percent of any total audience will do anything is really dangerous, and something that savvy entrepreneurs know or learn in Marketing 101.  “There are 100 million people living in this area of the U.S.  If I build a better mousetrap that costs $1, and if only 1 percent of those 100 million buy my mousetrap, I’ll have a million dollars!”

First, not all 100 million care about trapping mice.  Others won’t pay even $1 for it.  Still others don’t live near a store where they would be sold, and wouldn’t order it online or by other ways.

Estimating audiences is an art and a science.  Estimating the audiences for paid content involves more art than science, but I hope news orgs will start with understanding what online audiences want.  It doesn’t do much good to set these types of numbers based on what the news orgs need to desperately meet their revenue goals.

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.

Using stats from Facebook’s self-serve advertising program

Even Facebook doesn't have demographics and user info. on all of its users, as this ReadWriteWeb story illustrates.  In particular, look at the comments which point out all of the problems with using an incomplete set of data.

Facebook doesn't require users to provide age, geographic location and other basic demographic data when they sign up.  Thus, the user data you get when you go through the self-serve advertising program doesn't include all of those people who didn't submit data.  And you don't know how many, or how these missing people differ.

Also, Facebook doesn't require people to update their data, which causes other problems.  One of the ReadWriteWeb story commenters noted that  students who graduate from a high school or college may or may not be counted as students.

Facebook data should not be used for planning your social media strategies and services.  You're better off guessing than using this data.  Bad data may

Continue reading “Using stats from Facebook’s self-serve advertising program”

Comparing unique visitors in political blog sites

David Kaplan of PaidContent.org compared the number of unique visitors in April in political blog sites such as Huffington Post and The Drudge Report and found that “left-leaning” sites had 6.4 million; “right-leaning,” 4.8 million; and “neutral/non-partisan,” 1.3 million.

This is a fun comparison, but here are a few web-analytics-nerd thoughts for newsrooms who are competing for these audiences.

  • The left didn’t necessarily “win.” To really gauge the relative strength or engagement of the audiences, you should look at ratios like number of visits per UV, number of page views per visit, and bounce rate.
  • The left’s 6.4 million UVs is dominated by HuffPo’s 5.6 million.  The right’s 4.8 million was more distributed among The Drudge Report, Free Republic, World Net Daily and others.  I’d like to know how many UVs the sites shared – and how many went to only left sites, only right sites, and only neutral or nonpartisan sites.
  • Also, how many went to both left and right, or to all three?  How many who categorized themselves as left-leaning went to right sites?  Right-leaning to left, and so on?  (Note:  A lot of this data will send you into analysis paralysis, but there could be some actionable info here.)
  • In the minds of your audiences, is your site categorized as  conservative/right, liberal/left or neutral/nonpartisan?   Ideally, you should measure the differences in perception between news stories and editorials.
  • Are your pages coded and/or is your site set up to track all “political” content, whether it’s on the home page or the officially named “Politics” section?