Emerging Web metrics focus on engagement, audience quality

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In the “old days” (two years ago), demographics were a proxy for analytics, says Stephen DiMarco, chief marketing officer at Web analytics vendor Compete.com.  Now, media companies should be delving more deeply into who is visiting their sites and how to effectively sell against those visitors. 

There’s plenty of data to help them create richer profiles. In addition to traditional website analytics, publishers now have access to a growing trove of social media and mobile data. For example, next month, Compete plans to release a free tool for publishers that integrates profile content from Myspace, Photobucket and other Fox Audience Network properties.

Also see: Why analytics don't always add up

With all this rich data available, what are the emerging metrics that media companies should be adding to their page view and unique visitor calculations as a way to measure their online businesses? Many experts agree that quality of traffic is becoming a more accurate measure of user engagement. 

“Any metric around engagement is wise to track because it will provide a media site with the additional data they need to come up with unique monetization strategies, such as a subscription program for premium content,” says Neil Patel, founder of Web analytics startups Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics. Patel advises tracking metrics such as return visitors and “lifetime value” (a measure of customer value based on how often they purchase your products and how much they spend each time they place an order). 

Recency, loyalty and attribution models

John Roa, director of interactive strategy for marketing agency Colman Brohan Davis, suggests focusing on key indicators that can be attributed to external marketing campaigns, including: 

  • visitor recency – the duration between current and last/previous visits; 
  • visitor loyalty – frequency of visits; 
  • depth of visit – number of pages per visit; or 
  • length of visit 

These measures can be analyzed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing efforts, as well as quality of content, allowing publishers to tweak each website component. 

“Recency and loyalty are also stepping stones to the world of pan-session analysis,” says Roa. This type of analysis, which looks at user behavior over multiple visits, “is a crucial tactic for any engagement-centric Web property,” he adds. When measuring recency and loyalty, it’s important to filter out onetime visitors, Roa notes. 

Other metrics that are gaining favor include attribution models, according to Alan K'necht, founder and president of website consulting firm K'nechtology. The advancement of Web analytic products enables publishers to attribute specific website conversions to specific marketing programs in order to gauge their effectiveness, he says.

“Did someone [visit the website] several times before converting? If so, do you attribute the conversion to the last marketing effort that brought them to the site, to the first event or a percentage of all the items that influenced someone to come and visit your website,” asks K'necht. “There are several companies now working on solutions for this.”

Measuring beyond the website

Jason Harper, group director of marketing intelligence for digital marketing agency Organic, reminds publishers that if you are only measuring activity on your website, your insights will be limited to people who already know about your brand. Successful brands measure themselves against competitors as well. Harper advises using free tools like Google Insights for Search for competitive analysis. 

Another metric that extends beyond the confines of the website is attention: the time that a user spends on a given website versus all the time the user is spending in that website's category, according to DiMarco. This is a better reflection of engagement than counting page views and uniques alone, he says. 

Some experts acknowledge that media companies can have a more difficult time finding the right success metrics than companies in commerce-oriented industries such as retail. 

“Retailers have the luxury of increased tangibility; media sites need to be a little bit more creative and strive to measure voice, engagement, loyalty and trends,” says Roa.

“Both [media and retail websites] have unique KPIs (key performance indicators),” says Mark Ghuneim, CEO and founder of Trendrr and Wiredset, a real-time digital engagement agency for TV networks. “For retail, recurring visits without a transaction could signal consumer hesitancy or illuminate weakness surrounding the transaction process. Whereas a content-only media site would view those numbers as an increase in consumer retention.” 

Before deciding on the right KPIs, media companies first need to establish a clear objective for their online presence, Ghuneim advises. Do you want to drive awareness, loyalty, viewing/consumption or a transaction? Ghuneim shared a diagram that illustrates different types of engagement:

While your objectives may vary, the end result should always be some type of user engagement – a view, a download, a comment, a return visit, a newsletter subscription, etc. Determining the type of engagement desired will illuminate the analytics that you should track in order to reach that conversion. 

For DiMarco, audience engagement measurement is the Holy Grail for media companies. The key is to understand all the dynamics involved in tracking engagement and then to act on the insights. 

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