Since the dawn of the internet, advertisers and publishers based the value of a website on two imperfect metrics: Unique visitors and pageviews. The prevalence of the pageview has led to the rise of sites like Upworthy, Viral Nova, and Distractify. While these sites certainly receive a ton of pageviews (Viral Nova had 100 million pageviews in December alone after just six months of existence), they face serious challenges, like inconsistent audience demographics that could turn off companies looking to target specific groups of people.
That’s certainly not the only problem, either. The challenge with virality and pageviews stems from a lack of diversification in traffic sources. When a publisher focuses on generating traffic instead of developing an audience, it primarily gains unique views through social networks like Facebook. When Facebook tweaked their News Feed algorithm, these viral sites got crushed.
Moreover, these sites frequently don’t even craft their own content. They browse sites like Reddit and republish articles to their own audiences. Sometimes, they share the same content (here’s an instance when Distractify and Viral Nova shared the same photo). Instead of creating unique material, they spend most of their time crafting headlines that entice readers to click through in order to generate pageviews.
Despite their overall popularity, these click-bait sites finally prove that the pageview is no longer a valuable engagement measurement. Much like how the publications that profited during the age of yellow journalism, such as Pulitzer’s New York World or Hearst’s New York Journal, faded to make way for the higher-quality publications we know and love today, the legacy metric of the pageview will pass on in order for journalism and branded content to evolve.
As the evolution continues, what are the new metrics that editors, journalists, and content marketers should pay attention to?
Engagement: Branding and storytelling
While storytelling is widely praised for its implicit value, it will always be a difficult quality to measure. Many marketers may overlook the concept because it lacks ROI, but storytelling has been used to great effect by plenty of businesses looking to connect with customers and generate new business.
Instead of judging the success of a marketing campaign on pageviews and circulation, understand the value of measuring engagement by using metrics like time spent per page or time spent with brand. For example, UNICEF launched “Tap,” a campaign that promises to provide clean water to a child for a day for each minute users doesn’t touch their phone. The campaign is mobile-only, another sign of how browsing habits are constantly changing.
At this point, the webpage is a relic. The infinite scroll, a popular design technique used by just about every site at this point, requires new measurements capable of capturing value.
Retention: Don’t build traffic, build an audience
Soon, chasing fast clicks won’t be a sustainable business model or a silver-bullet metric for publishers. The focus continues to shift toward building a platform and an audience. And more useful metrics for success will monitor how many readers you have and how likely those readers are to return to your site.
Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile believes in measuring the time readers spend on the page engaging — scrolling, clicking, writing, reading, and watching — and correlating that number with the average reader’s propensity to return. This method helps determine the progress of publishers’ platform development based on the likelihood of readers to return in 30 days. To this end, Haile has created a new solution that helps publishers track which readers are consistently responding to a particular site.
Conversion: Keeping the close in mind
In addition to engagement and retention, keep your finger on the pulse of the most fundamental metric: conversion. As 99U managing editor Sean Blanda says, “Most branded content has a conversation in mind — an email sign-up, a purchase, etc. That’s what you measure. I’d rather have 1,000 dedicated readers and convert 10% of them, than have 100,000 and convert no one.”
While pageviews are crucial for advertising-supported publications (to help gauge circulation), they are a small piece of the puzzle for content marketing initiatives and publications supported more heavily through subscriptions. Engagement and retention are more important figures, but conversion is the most significant.
Conversion is lower down the content marketing funnel than engagement and retention, which makes it difficult to attain and very important to track. In journalism, a conversion could be a subscription to paywall content or a print magazine. In content marketing, conversions could be sales, lead generation, or permission marketing metrics.
Engagement and retention are helpful, but conversions pay the bills.
Instead of chasing the vanity metric of pageviews in the hopes of striking viral gold, publishers need to turn their attention to crucial concepts like engagement, retention, and conversion moving forward. In the long run, those who fail to evolve will not only be left behind, they’ll probably wind up out of business, as well.
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