Page views: bad metric #3

Why do news organizations persist in using total page views as a measure of success?  Perhaps because if you're afraid of numbers then you're even more afraid of bad numbers, or numbers that tell you that your site isn't as successful as you want.

As with unique visitors and time on site, page views is a deeply flawed metric for understanding how a news organization is growing and retaining audiences.  

If the number of page views goes up, it could be a good thing.  Or, it could be bad.

If page views go down, it could be a bad thing.  Or – you guessed it – it could be good.

We would all like to think that a soaring number of page views means lots of people are eagerly pawing through our sites reading everything that's written.  However, how many times have you gone to a site and clicked on, say, 12 pages, fruitlessly looking for something? 

This is counted as:

1.    One unique visitor
2.    One visit
3.    12 page views

And one dissatisfied person who may not come back.

The page views metric rewards the bad design and navigation that many news sites have (sorry).  Most news sites persist in using section titles that are the same as their legacy media product (e.g., "Local News," "Life"), leaving audiences – if they're so inclined – to have to click numerous times before landing on a story about a particular city or activity like gardening.   

Or, a site breaks up a story into multiple pages, which can be annoying to a reader and reduces the possibility the reader will read the entire story and rate it, e-mail it or leave a comment.  What could be counted as one page view with a comment is counted as, say, five page views. 

If a site is redesigned and readers can find what they want with fewer clicks, total page views will – should – go down. 

And, dynamic content, or content that changes on the page without the reader clicking anything – isn't counted at all.  Streaming stories, videos, widgets, Flash applications, podcasts?  One page view.

To truly grow, a news org must understand every action its audiences are taking on its sites.  These are challenging times that require news sites to experiment and try many different things.  Not all things will work, which means sometimes the numbers will be bad.  But – you guessed it – that's a good thing.  We have to know if something's not working so we can fix it. 


Mobile app-mania

IPad app tag Is it just too mundane to talk about mobile application metrics when the iPad – touted as the savior of news media – has only been out a day?  Yeah, probably, but before I too get swept up in the frenzy of newness and coolness, I want to go on record noting that the total number of iPhone apps downloaded or purchased doesn’t tell you anything about engaging audiences.  Ditto for iPad apps.

App icon It must be true because I saw a story about how people don’t use smartphone apps in the New York Times.  No, not in David Pogue’s technology blog.  It was in the softy Sunday Styles section, right under a huge article about middle school boys using smelly body washes to get “masculinity in a spray can.”

The key takeaway (of the smartphone story, that is): Most people have more shoes than iPhone apps.  They download a bunch of apps and even pay for some of them, but they don’t actually use a lot of them.

App store “Since Apple launched its App Store in 2008, media, industry observers
and Apple customers have bent over backwards to heap encomium after
encomium on applications,” Mickey Alam Khan, editor-in-chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, wrote last week.  “Yet, for
all the hoopla – 150,000 applications in the Apple App Store, 30,000 in
Google’s Android Market, 50,000 in GetJar – not enough questions are
asked of the efficacy of this mobile channel, either for content,
marketing, retail or entertainment.”

What questions should be asked?  The usual indicators of engagement – number of visits to an application per week or month, visits per unique user and the like.  Khan also wants to know “How many deletions each month and after how many visits?” and “Do users respond to images on applications the way they do on mobile sites?  Do they have the same patience for page load times, application versus mobile Web sites?”

Droid live Unfortunately, Khan notes that the data just isn’t there yet.  “Apple, Google and others of its ilk are asking retailers, publishers
and brands to spend tens of millions of dollars on products created
uniquely for their proprietary application stores.

“The least that
application store owners can do to reward this marketer devotion is to
offer data on an aggregate level….

“With each new mobile device’s launch, more hysteria is created around
the content possibilities.  The Apple iPad’s debut has launched
another round of application development, this time giving hope to
publishers worried over the future of the printed book….

Get jar logo “Applications as the glue that creates
stickiness to mobile device will be the name of the game.

“But is
this simply an Apps Bubble or another viable mobile channel that can
hold its own with the mobile Web? Only time and data will tell.”

The right data, that is.





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 vote for using ratios rather than numbers

"The value of advertising online ought to be measured more by
engagement than by sheer numbers, that is, more by metrics like time
spent or page views per user than by the sheer number of people coming
to the site, many of whom may not assign any value to the journalists
who generated the content.

"Indeed, as we hear more about “freemium” (mixed paid and free)
models, publishers and editors ought to be thinking about who their
most engaged readers are and what characteristics they share."

— From "Yes, News Sites Are Facing A Crisis, But Aggregators Aren't The Problem," by Bill Grueskin, Columbia University, in