An ounce of Prevention

I exercise regularly and don’t smoke, but I avoid reading Prevention.com. It’s just too annoying to be reminded of all of the other “smart ways to live well.”  When I see “by the editors of Prevention.com,” I have this picture in my mind of a bunch of really healthy people popping out cheerful stories like “5 Vitamins Your Bones Love” and “10 Reasons You’re Always Exhausted.”

Prevention Now I have another (annoying) vision, thanks to MinOnline‘s story about how well Prevention is using web analytics.  Of course a staff that is so pragmatic and probably always mentally alert would resist “going for the cheap link grab and traffic spike” – the junk food of web analytics.

I haven’t been sleeping well because I think too much (the top reason people don’t get enough sleep and are therefore exhausted), so I’ll just plop in these two paragraphs verbatim from Steve Smith’s MinOnline story, “At the Building Prevention.Com, Only The Abs Are Flat.”

Page views rpt Prevention stays “on its own brand message and [courts] the kinds of audiences that it and
its advertisers really want. ‘We got back to engaging with our customer
in the ways we knew they wanted us to engage with them,’ says [vp/digital Bill] Stump.
Fishing for any and all eyeballs and courting simple traffic spikes in
the search-driven universe doesn’t pay off in the end. ‘You get waves of
traffic, but the tide goes back out and what are you left with?’
Instead, by keeping to the needs of the ‘core customer’ in everything
that goes out to syndication or into the e-mail newsletters, prevention.com is courting the
people who tend to stay.

Page views per visit “Now, each big wave raises the sea level for all of prevention.com’s metrics, says
Stump. In the last two years, overall page views climbed 60%. In the
last year, the number of visits per user went up 12%. But it is the
engagement metrics of which Stump is proudest. ‘The number that warms my
heart,’ he says, ‘is page views per visitor that are up 49%.’ That
means the new visitors are sticking with the site and drilling much
deeper than they ever have before. ‘In general, advertisers want an
engaged audience. They want the metrics that show that people value your
brand and come to you for something that is unique. We own natural
health and fitness and beauty. We are the authentic voice.'”

 

 

Wasting time

Time spent on a site or a visit ranks right up there with total page views and monthly unique visitors as widely quoted metrics masking as indicators of success for news organizations.

No, it's not a crime to misuse a metric, but isn't a shame to waste your time on something that's not absolutely essential to your site's success? 

Dali-clock-compressed Plus, the way that time spent is calculated is flawed.  All web metrics are flawed somewhat, but time spent is really misleading.

More on the ugly methodology later – let's tackle time spent's uselessness first.  In other words, if the methodology were acceptable would time spent still be a key performance indicator?

Advertisers have always made decisions based on the level of engagement a news org's audiences have with its brand and content.  But both content and the ways people use and interact with content are different – and thus the way engagement is measured is different, too. 

Man_reading_newspaper In the past, time spent was an important measure of engagement for news orgs and advertisers.  People spent whole chunks of time with one medium or another.  Readership surveys measured time spent per day or per week.

Because these were surveys, time spent was based on self-reported information.  It was what people said they did vs. what they actually did.

Picture 1 But it didn't matter whether what people said matched with what they did.  What mattered was how engaged people felt.  People who reported they spent an hour a day with Monday's newspaper but actually only spent twenty minutes believed they spent a large chunk of time and attention with a news org.

In stark contrast, web advertising decisions depend on knowing actual behavior as reported via rows upon rows of numbers ruthlessly pouring out every second.   Among many other things, advertisers track the number of times their ads come up and are clicked upon. Sites and audiences are more niche and are highly segmented.   The algorithms for and definitions of "engagement" vary for every site and every company.  

Time spent just isn't a good indicator of engagement.  Someone who spends five minutes a day on a site, goes to five different stories each visit and adds comments twice a week is clearly more engaged than someone who comes onto a site for 30 minutes a week and clicks idly on a few pages while talking on the phone.    

How many times have you spent 30 minutes or so on a site, flipping and flapping through what seems like a million page views in a fruitless attempt to find something?  Maybe you spent 30 minutes in such a visit once – and never went back.

A news org's success in the long-term will be based not on how much time people spend on a site but what they do once they're there.

————–

How Time Spent on a Site is Calculated

Continue reading “Wasting time”

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.

Pop-up videos make government engaging

Today I watched over seven minutes – from beginning to end – of The Texas Tribune’s Nov. 9 news video coverage of Kay Bailey Hutchison‘s gubernatorial campaign stump speech.

The video, one of The Tribune’s “Stump Interrupted” series, uses pop-up bubbles and illustrations to add context and value to a normally boring but important story.  The pop-ups are entertaining without being silly.

Picture 1

 

When KBH is saying, “Our taxes have gone up too much in the last ten years,” the pop-up points out that “But…since 2003, Texas still had the 14th lowest per capita tax increase in the country.”

 

KBH: “I think that we are seeing too much power in one person, the power of appointment.”

Pop-ups:  A large hand illustrating someone being appointed glides in from the left, followed by the fact that “Governor [Rick] Perry has made about 5,530 appointments since first taking office.”

On the site, people can also see the sources The Tribune used for the pop-ups.

Picture 2

 

The metrics angle:  Counting how many times a video was viewed doesn’t give any info on whether the viewer was engaged.  The more relevant measure is how much of the video was viewed, and whether the video was viewed from beginning to end.

I would also look at video metrics by topic, and set goals accordingly.  I would imagine (no, really?) that the number of complete views of a Dallas Cowboys video is usually much higher than that of anything having to do with politics, even in Texas.

The Texas Tribune got California-born-and-bred me to watch a KBH video from beginning to end.  I’m now more interested in both Texas politics and in how The Tribune covers it. Imagine how engaged a Texas resident who has a stake in this would be.

Picture 5 Actually, The Tribune doesn’t have to completely guess at this.  In
addition to commenting and e-mailing the story, people can rate a story
as a “must read.”

 

I’m really intrigued about what The Tribune will do next.  It’s a nonprofit news org that, according to WebNewser, didn’t cover the Fort Hood shootings because it’s “dedicated to covering ‘the politics and policy of Texas state government.'”

I love this focus on identifying a niche audience and topic, and sticking to serving the needs of that audience.  WebNewser reported that editor Matt Stiles said that the Fort Hood story just “wasn’t our story.  Should we have jut been one more news organization rushing to Fort Hood?  I don’t think so.”

The Tribune’s a great example of a truly audience-focused news organization with unique and compelling content that provides value.  Despite being staffed by “newspaper refugees,” it’s refreshingly not content-focused.  It doesn’t build the content first and then hope the audience will come.

 

Analyzing Twitter

I've been scratching at developing some methodology that newsrooms can use for measuring the success of their Twitter strategies for some time now.  Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to really focus on it.  However, a couple of nuggets I saw today reinforce my hypotheses that simple counts of followers and tweets mean very little.  You really need to dig deep and spend the time (sigh) analyzing follower profiles and tweet content. 

Thanks to Mashable today, I've finally found the site that keeps a running count of how many users use Twitter via its web site vs. third-party clients or applications like TweetDeck.  Twitstat currently shows that only 20 percent (!) of Twitter usage comes from the web site.  Now I'm really going to scrutinize the methodology of any reports on Twitter usage.  I suspect most of them – especially the panel researchers like comScore or Nielsen – only capture site traffic.

This stat from iMedia Connection is from September but it's probably still useful.  "Roughly one quarter (24 percent) of Twitter users have never tweeted or
have ceased doing so, according to data from audience measurement firm Crowd Science. That number is very close to the percentage of users who tweet on a daily basis (27 percent)." 

140conf I'm really looking forward to the 140 Characters Conference in Los Angeles next week.  After that I'm sure I'll be inspired to really buckle down and figure this out!

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.

Short-form videos need short ads; video subscriptions

As you add more short-form videos to your site, watch the length of the ads in proportion to the length of the videos.

At the Online News Association conference last week, many presenters stressed the importance of posting more short videos (30-120 seconds) more often rather than waiting days or weeks to craft a traditional long-form TV story package.   Chet Rhodes, the deputy multimedia editor for breaking news at washingtonpost.com, said that the Post has problems supplying enough video inventory to its advertisers.

Many studies, including this new report from eMarketer, show that “online video viewership has never been higher.”   However, the study points out that audiences’ acceptance of video advertising is dependent on the “growth of professional content” and targeted, less intrusive ads.

Has the growth in your video traffic – as measured by multiple metrics including the number of viewers and how much of the video was viewed – kept up with your audiences’ hunger for more live and breaking news videos?

Continue reading “Short-form videos need short ads; video subscriptions”