The web has changed in a lot of ways over the years, but pageviews and impressions predominantly remain as the metrics by which many publishers and advertisers measure the so-called success of their content and campaigns. It's time for a change. It's time for the Attention Web, which puts a premium on high-quality content—where publishers are rewarded for feats of journalistic strength, and where advertisers can buy an audience's collective attention. Why does it matter? What does it mean? Who's leading the charge? Check out our infographic, which we think is pretty damn awesome. Because rocket ships.
We’re in the business of measuring and monetizing attention on the web. We work with publishers and agencies and brands to help them do just that. In doing so, we’ve learned that in order to move the media industry past valuing only clicks and impressions, it’s going to take all of us working together.
So, let’s do it. Let’s get together to start solving the parts of the advertising and publishing world that are broken.
On Monday, May 19, we're getting a few smart folks (that’s you) together at our office in Union Square to talk about the value of content and advertising on the web.
We call it "Building the Attention Web." But you can call it free snacks and nerdery.
- Joy Robins, VP Advertising & Strategy at Quartz
- Jen Ray, VP Account Director at Havas Media
- Patrick Yee, Executive Vice President for Marketing & Strategy at Refinery29
- Daniel Mintz, Head of Business Intelligence at Upworthy
- Shane Snow, Co-founder at Contently
And of course, everyone’s favorite Brit, Tony Haile, our CEO, will be moderating the panel—by moderating we basically mean heckling and inserting as many bad puns into the conversation as possible.
So let us know if you can come. We’ll save you a seat! But wait, that's not all...
Also on our agenda for Monday: A Breakfast Engagement with Fred Wilson
Our friends over at Disqus are hosting a breakfast summit that seeks to close the gap between what advertisers and publishers measure and what matters to the people they're trying to reach.
Tony and Jay Lauf of Quartz will be squaring off to talk about premium content, premium audiences, and what’s next in the world of content measurement. The event will also have talks from folks at Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Etsy, and more.
Looks like we’ll be doing a whole lot of hanging out on Monday, huh? See you then!
Today, Upworthy introduced a metric they're using on their content, which they're calling Attention Minutes. As we've done with our friends at Medium and the good folks at YouTube when they've introduced ways to understand how their audience is engaging with content beyond clicks and pageviews, we're extending a giant virtual high five.
It’s another big win for people, like us, who care about making sure awesome, quality content is the backbone of the media industry. We've all been pushing in this direction for a few years now, and the flywheel is starting to spin faster and faster—Upworthy’s announcement is further proof of that.
You guys know us, and know we've spent just about every day of our company's history working with thousands of publishers across the globe to solve the problems of where the click and pageview leave off and how we can actually quantify what and how people read. We introduced one of our key metrics, Engaged Time, a couple of years back, and it's quickly become how lots of folks measure the quality of their content across the web. It tells them not just if people are clicking, but also if they're actually reading—there's a big difference.
How Do We Measure Engaged Time?
We silently ping every single visitor's browser every few seconds to check what they’re doing. First, we look to see if a browser tab is active or inactive—are they there or grabbing a cup of coffee in the kitchen?—and then we look for a few key triggers, such as moving or clicking a mouse, typing on a keyboard, or watching an on-page video. It's pretty different from traditional time on page, which estimates how long users keep pages open, rather than how long they actually engage with pages.
Why Is Measuring Time So Incredibly Seriously Must-Do-It Important?
Well, not only does it go beyond surface clicks and page loads to tell you what happens between those clicks, but we've done a lot research that says it's a huge indicator of the core goals most every publisher has: Building a loyal audience and monetizing that audience. Our data team found that users’ Engaged Time is strongly correlated with their loyalty to your site. Below is a figure showing the relationship between the maximum amount of time visitors spent reading articles one day and whether they returned to the site across the rest of the week.
Visitors who read an article for three minutes returned twice as often as those who read for one minute. If you get them to read your stuff, like your stuff, and come back again to read more of the stuff they like, you've done your job. Why? Because that's the kind of content and audience insights your marketing team can use to target the right audience with paywall upgrades or newsletter signups. And most importantly, it's information your ad sales teams can take to your brand advertising partners and sell. They can use this information to prove that your best content is read by your best audience and should be sold at a premium.
It proves your content is worth more than the headline that someone clicked on it. It's worth the value of someone actually reading that. Because when they read more, as this study on brand recall below shows, they're more apt to recall the brand that advertises next to that content they just consumed. That's pretty damn valuable, we're told.
But don't just take our word for it. Exposure time as it correlates with recall has been supported by the work of the biggest advertising companies out there from Microsoft to Yahoo and Google, as shown in their research here:
So let's go! Let's all—tech and analytics nerds, editors, ad sales teams, agency planners, brand advertisers—keep this momentum going. Let's stop letting the metrics of what we could measure in the past get in the way of what matters to our audience.
Phillip Smith is a digital publishing consultant who focuses on news innovation, specifically "the technology and ideas that are shaping how users interact with journalism online." You can find him on Twitter and at www.phillipadsmith.com
When I created my first Chartbeat account back on March 23, 2010, I didn't anticipate that just a few short years later I'd be asked to host a talk at Chartbeat's NYC HQ to explore how publishers are going "Beyond the Click" to get to actual engagement.
I also didn't anticipate the impact of that event on my thinking about the nexus of publishers, the technology companies working in the publishing space, advertisers and media buyers, and -- most importantly -- the engaged users.
At the conclusion of the event I had a good hunch that this loose collection of ideas and initiatives, which fall under the heading of "new metrics for publishers" -- happening very openly at companies like Chartbeat and Disqus, but also unfolding in newsrooms around the world -- was likely to be a key theme in 2014, along with unprecedented technology innovation in newsrooms, the disruption of the existing advertising models, and the changing demands of users.
Publishers take center stage on the Web
If you take it as face value, recent research tell us that roughly 78% of adult internet users in the U.S. go online to "get news." Add to that some of the other main reasons that people go online -- e.g., "to look for information about a service or product they are thinking of buying" or "to find information on a hobby or interest" -- and you’ll find that online publishers are often providing that information too.
This puts publishers in a very enviable position, I would propose, as the producers, purveyors, curators, and gatekeepers of much of the Internet's most sought-after commodity: fresh, timely, contextual, and relatively-objective information. One by one, publishers appear to have navigated their ships’ course to adapt to the changing landscape. They are focusing attention on a new, quickly evolving role as the central marketplace of information, attention, and engagement.
Newsrooms as software innovation labsMore interesting still is the relatively new trend of publishers investing in digital staff that are not stuck in the outdated role of "IT." Working at a distance from those folks that are managing the servers and infrastructure, these new "news apps" and "good Internet" teams are embracing experimentation. They are pushing the envelope of what users have come to expect as "content" and "information." The outcome is new forms of journalism and storytelling that invite the user to be more engaged, whether through data, interactivity, or awe.
One side effect of these investments is a quickly-maturing technical acumen in newsrooms and a wealth of contributions back to the open-source software community -- the same community that helped to make much of the innovation possible in the first place. A natural feedback loop is born: more technical innovation and open-source contributions by newsrooms lures more talented developers away from other sectors, and more talented developers often means more innovation in those same newsrooms.
Another upside of this publisher-driven innovation, is the pressure it exerts on the ecosystem of technology vendors they collaborate with, compelling those same vendors to evolve their products more rapidly and to open up new ways for programmers to work with their products.
Disruption of the display advertising modelPressure is also being exerted on many of the players in the traditional online display advertising space, in many parts due to the experiments that online publishers are undertaking. For example, just one factor out of several -- the increased consumption of online content on mobile devices -- has meant that forward-thinking publishers have all but eliminated traditional display ad formats from their now "mobile first" Web properties; the lonely "big box” display ad is almost all that remains in many recently launched "responsive" sites that aim to provide an all-in-one experience for readers arriving from phones, tablets, laptops, or desktops. The Boston Globe, GlobalNews.ca, and NPR are good examples.
Other pressures, like low reader engagement with display advertising, and the complicated web of ad-delivery networks, slow ad-serving technologies, and the increasing practice of “programmatic buying” that sidesteps the publisher’s sales team, have lead to a wave of publishers experimenting with new ad formats that fall under the term "native advertising" (or "sponsored content"), where the distinction between advertising and content blurs considerably. However, almost overnight, publishers have bootstrapped their own solutions to two challenges: ad formats that adapt well to the mobile reading experience, as well as, in many cases, increasing reader engagement. Some recent numbers suggest that as many as 3/4 of online publishers in the U.S. are now offering native advertising.
These shifts away from timidly accepting what technology vendors have to offer, or what advertising agencies are pitching, and toward producing in-house solutions to the challenge of increasing their readers' satisfaction and engagement exemplify publishers pushing the envelope at a time when they've come to see the role they play as one of the convening places on the modern Web.
Users start to pay for content, but want privacy tooAt the other end of these shifts, however, are some established technology companies making quick moves to address these new challenges head-on with their existing products. For example, Chartbeat's push to create a new metric for publishers, "Engaged Time" is one great example (and they didn't ask me to say that!). Thought leadership is coming from all directions, and it is often touching on this intersection of publishers, advertising, and users.
There is, generally speaking, a surge of analytics and “big data” technology coming onto the market that is aimed at helping online publishers make sense of their mountain of accumulated "user data." A focus of many of these new analytics platforms is to help publishers understand their audience better, as well as which content performs the best, and publishers are increasingly in the position of making tough decisions about which visits matter to them most when they decide where to invest their editorial budget.
One voice is still often missing, however, or perhaps it is one billion voices: the end-user, the news consumer, the reader, the individuals who use the Web. This coming year, I predict, is going to be about the unfolding story of a new contract between readers, publishers, technology platforms, and advertisers.The continued, and relatively successful, introduction of pay walls at mainstream news sites, experimental subscription strategies at the heart of a new bread of entrepreneurial journalism initiatives, and the continued success of "crowd funding" to help support expensive types of journalism all point in one direction: publishers will rely less on "selling users to advertisers" as the exclusive strategy for financial sustainablity.
At the same time, however, users are growing leery from the ongoing revelations of the invasions of their privacy by the companies they once thought were infallible, and thus many are growing more reluctant to unwittingly hand over their information. Practices like programatic ad buying, which make online tracking more directly evident to end-users, and efforts like Mozilla’s Lightbeam for Firefox, which shine a light on how much data is being shared, and with whom, will continue to push users to ask for more privacy from publisher, advertisers, and platforms.
The dynamics at play above -- publishers, technology platforms, advertisers, and users -- and the tensions being exerted as each one tries to optimize their online experience -- whether it’s sharable content, ad delivery, better metrics, or more privacy -- is why I’m predicting that “the ascendance of publishers and users” will be a key narrative of the Web in 2014.
What do you predict will happen in online publishing in 2014? Do you agree with Phillip's predictions? Share your ideas in the Comments below.