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On the client support team we spend our days consulting with clients big and small to make sure they’re getting the most out of their Chartbeat tools – so we get asked a lot of questions. One question that keeps finding its way into our inbox that never fails to give me pause:

Why don’t I see a count of total visitors to my site?

This question misses the fundamental point of Chartbeat’s real-time philosophy. Our core metric for measuring audience size, concurrents, doesn’t represent a running total – and that’s on purpose.


The Value of Concurrents

There are a lot of misconceptions and ‘almost there’ definitions of concurrents, so the first thing I want to do is set the record straight: one concurrent equals one open window on your site, and only when that visitor closes that window do they stop counting. Concurrents are not a measure of pageviews per minute, and they do not assume a visitor will be engaged for any given amount of time.

Concurrents diverge from other event-based analytics methodologies in that they don’t assume a visitor will have a set session length — Google Analytics, for example, automatically attributes a session length of five minutes to each visitor, even if they leave after just 30 seconds.

This kind of system inevitably misreports who is on your site and inflates the metrics on poor content while undervaluing highly engaging longer stories.

With Chartbeat, on the other hand, you always know whether or not visitors are still reading your content.


A Closer Look

To really understand the value of using the concurrents metric, let’s look at an example within a rapidly growing traffic segment: mobile visitors.

Tracking mobile concurrents in Chartbeat completely excludes all pages, tabs, and applications that are running in the device’s background. While it’s easy to toggle between windows and tabs on your desktop browser, you almost never do that on a phone, so we only report readers who are currently looking at your content.

To illustrate this difference, let’s say that during the middle of your workday you sort your dashboard by “mobile” and check the top three or four stories. You may see something like this:




The top three stories have a similar number of mobile concurrents, but one of them, Story 2, has a significantly lower average engaged time. If the audience on Story 2 is only spending a fraction of the time on that page, it’s probably also racking up pageviews at a much higher rate in order to stay in the top ranking.

In a different analytics tool you may see Story 2 as the strongest at the top of a standard “total pageview” report. However, both Story 1 and Story 3 are far more valuable for your mobile audience — those are the stories that are most engaging to your readers.

So what exactly does this mean for you? The best action to take at this moment would be to maximize exposure to Stories 1 and 3 among mobile readers and overall. A friendly reminder from your data-science team at Chartbeat:


Readers who spend three minutes engaging with content are twice as likely to return to your site in the next week compared to visitors who only read for one minute.


Analytics services that inflate the pageview totals or over-report active visitors shouldn’t inform your content strategy. In this case Story 2 gets the most clicks, but Stories 1 and 3 are the real winners for mobile readers. With so many different kinds of metrics out there, it’s important to be critical about what you’re trying to measure and how you plan to use that to your advantage.

If you want to talk shop, reach out to my team at or read up on some related content about the tools in your toolbox here.


A few weeks ago, our support team received an email from a Report Builder-savvy customer at the Poughkeepsie Journal who wanted to examine the differences in user engagement between their top articles on desktop computers vs. mobile devices. He wanted to better understand any differences in behavior so he and his team could be more thoughtful about their content and promotion strategy.


In his initial email, he had already done quite a bit of work; created a spreadsheet using Report Builder’s ‘most popular articles’ format and grouped them into device type, ran them through an excel spreadsheet to find the top 140 or so matches (since not every story ranked in the top 200 on both platforms), and even created a new field called ‘spread’ which looks at the difference between a story’s rank between the desktop and mobile version. But he needed our help to go deeper and see if we could pull out any meaningful insights.


As the biggest Report Builder nerd on the team I jumped at the chance to tackle this problem.


What Engagement Means on Different Devices

Before getting into the numbers, let’s recall what exactly Chartbeat is measuring: a user’s engagement with your page. Chartbeat listens for scroll events, keystrokes, and mouse movements to determine when a user is engaged. When this isn’t happening (for example, when a user moves into a background tab on a desktop device) Chartbeat stops attributing engagement.


Readers on desktop devices who leave background tabs open and never return can ultimately dilute the average engaged time number, because while they’re still being counted as a concurrent, they don’t contribute to engaged time. On mobile however, there’s a different story: once a user moves to a new app, opens a new tab, or closes the phone, the session times out.


Phase One: How does Engagement Compare?

Our first question was around which device type usually had the higher average engagement, so the first step was to compare engagement between devices.



The key metric we’re using here is a given story’s rank on the most engaging articles list for each device type; the higher the ranking, the less engagement it received. In the graph, each dot represents a single story and placement on the axes represent its ranking for each device type.  


What we see is that it loosely follows a 1:1 relationship: as you increase a story’s rank on mobile you increase at about the same rate it’s rank on desktop. Which makes sense — you’d generally expect that in most cases a highly engaging mobile story will also be engaging for desktop readers.


However, it’s also pretty clear that more stories sit above that trend line than below it, showing that there were more stories whose mobile versions have a better rank than their desktop counterparts.


Due to the differences in technology there are generally fewer deflating sessions that contribute to average engaged time on mobile it’s not surprising to see higher average engaged times for mobile. Nonetheless, when you compare the desktop and mobile average engagement ranks, there’s still a clear correlation.


But we wanted to go deeper. What might be happening in between these ranks is where we can learn how substantial that variation really is.


Phase Two: Looking Closer

By looking at how strong the variation in user engagement is between a story’s desktop and mobile versions, we can look closely at each story to see if we can identify a pattern in stories with large engagement variations.

To explore this I looked at the distribution of the differences between average mobile and desktop engaged time for each story:


I found that of the top 139 stories, mobile readers spent an average of 6 more seconds engaging with a story than desktop visitors — further evidence of higher average engaged times for mobile.


In fact, 15 stories (10% of the total) had mobile average engaged times that were at least 25 seconds greater than desktop readers. Digging deeper, I found that each of these stories has a highly promoted video at the top of the page.


Remember, Chartbeat Publishing engaged time only tracks engagement with the page and not the video player. We know that the higher engaged times aren’t coming from by users watching the videos — it appears that on the Poughkeepsie Journal, mobile readers really are just spending more time engaging with the longer-form content following video. This could be because users are conscious of running up a huge data bill, or because they’d preferred to digest the narrative quickly and quietly.


Either way, there’s a clear a trend here: the five pieces with large discrepancies between mobile and desktop have captivating video, whereas the bottom five stories with negative deltas don’t.


What does this mean for the Journal? I think it means trust their gut. It’s a great reminder that producing multimedia content shouldn’t come at the expense of written content — mobile readers will thank you for including both (and probably watch that video when they get home)!


Wait! Before you tweet that awesome story, think: Have you done everything you can to capitalize on the instant exposure? With your Chartbeat Publishing Dashboard as your trusty sidekick, you can find the best content to share in terms of audience and Engaged Time before you ever post or tweet, and then watch the traffic roll in real-time. But you should also make sure those stories are optimized for the best experience of those who visit. Let’s consider an example. We pivoted to see what Gizmodo’s new visitors were reading, and noticed the top article: “If You Want to Watch Game of Thrones, Maybe Just Pay For It.”


Of course, you would pick this story, maybe fine-tune the headline, and then whip up a witty tweet, but you might also want to take a minute to set up the best page possible for this new audience. Don’t miss this opportunity! Before you take that story to the tweeple, spend a minute curating it for the influx of new traffic that we’re sure to see. Start by loading up the page in the Heads Up Display and then find your digital fold, i.e. “most visitors don’t read past here.” Then, embed links to related content that you know will lead to more recirculation and increased engagement. Notice how Gizmodo got its related links above the fold here?


If you have related on-topic stories that could help drive your visitors deeper into your website, embed ’em! You could add links in line with the text, or as part of a separate breakout box—both of which are employed by Gizmodo here. How about your other acquiring content that’s doing particularly well with your new audience? Put your links in great positions, and then maybe add a picture and snappy headline for good measure.

Check out last week’s Chartcorps Challege: “Zombies! What to Do When Newly Undead Articles Walk Again.”

Do everything you can to promote extra content that’s likely to do best before you share. Then tweet it out, and watch the traffic grow in real-time. Don’t forget, once you’ve got folks rolling in, revist the links on the page, continue to curate around the best performance, and keep tweaking until the tweets lived its short 140-character life. Rather than tweeting and hoping, take control. With the Heads Up Display and Chartbeat Publishing Dashboard, you’re able to react rapidly, increasing the odds that these fresh faces come back again soon.