The Pageview’s Reign of Terror Is Ending, but Will We Elect Another Dictator?

In the media and marketing worlds, many believe the pageview has been an awful, unjust tyrant that needs to be dethroned. But when you think of deposing a dictator, one big question always comes up: Who will rule next?

In other words, if we’re not going to use pageviews to measure the success of our content and buy and sell ads, then what will we use?

Replacing the pageview with another dictator-esque metric might not be the answer. In all likelihood, we want something more akin to a content measurement democracy.

This topic led to an important discussion at the Contently Summit earlier this month, when Contently co-founder Shane Snow, serving as the moderator of a panel on content measurement, put a metaphorical gun to the head of BuzzFeed Director of Data Science Ky Harlin and asked him what metric he would choose to measure content success if he could only pick one.

“That’s just really not a useful way to think about it,” said Harlin. “You’re almost better off doing nothing than focusing on just one single metric because you’re just very prone to false conclusions.”

“I guess we’re all dead then,” Snow joked.

In Harlin’s mind, you’re foolish to discount any metric—even pageviews. You want to use every piece of data at your disposal to figure out what’s working. It’s a sobering reminder to those of us that have been on an anti-pageview crusade. Articles like “5 Metrics to Stop Measuring,” while well-intentioned, are probably missing the point.

That being said, some metrics have proved particularly helpful. Harlin and his co-panelist, Aniq Rahmen, president of advertising analytics company Moat, both pinpointed engaged time and scroll depth as important metrics to examine.

Speaking from the ad-sales side, Rahmen noted content that attracts a lot of engaged time often results in much stronger display performance. Many have advocated that display ads should be sold based on time spent with content, and the Financial Times recently started selling ads based on time spent with content.

“Sites that have good content—[where they’re] spending time on the page, scrolling down on the page, etc.—tend to have better ad performance as well,” Rahmen explained. “People tend to interact with those ads more; those ads are in view for longer.”

Harlin, telling the story of when BuzzFeed first introduced longform content, described how engaged time can reveal insights you’d miss otherwise. “One thing we were interested in was how much are people actually consuming this content,” he said. “The traditional way to do that is to look at the average amount of time that people are spending on longform pages and sort of compare that to other articles, correcting for length and things like that. [Time spent] told us that people aren’t really engaged with these articles, but when we started to dig deeper into how many people got 10 percent down the page, 20 percent down the page … we found that people were reading very little of it or reading the entire article.”

Rahmen added that looking at engaged time can help you evaluate successes that might not be captured by mere pageviews or shares. “On a site like Forbes, where Oracle is writing white papers about databases, people aren’t likely to tweet that out, and yet it’s valuable to the people who spend the time to read it and engage with it.”

Harlin pushed for a different way of measuring social, explaining a crucial metric at BuzzFeed is “viral lift,” which measures the propensity for a given article to be shared. The viral lift is calculated, in part, by examining a diverse range of data around each visitor coming to an article and categorizing them as “seed views” and “viral views.”

Still, Harlin supported an open and all-encompassing approach to content measurement. “There’s lots of different things you can look at for different sorts of problems,” he said. “Using multiple [sets of data] is really the best way to understand it best.”

Harlin’s stance that there’s no silver-bullet metric for content performance wasn’t the easiest thing for the audience to handle. During the Q&A, one man challenged him with the reality that executives ultimately need hard numbers they can bring to the board to demonstrate success. “We’ve all been spending money on Omnitron and Nielsen, knowing they’re wrong, but at least we can have some sense when we go to the board and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing,'” the man exclaimed, adding that it was disconcerting to hear Harlin say that no single metric matters.

“I’m not saying they don’t matter, I’m saying that metrics aren’t inherently good or bad,” Harlin responded. “And looking at a single thing … isn’t actually telling you that much.”

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