We need to change the way we measure online readership

We all know how much site traffic can mean to any website
publisher – it
is often the sole metric by which we
measure success.

It is time, however, that we look at online readership
beyond uniques and pageviews – and even time on site. It is time that we look
at the reach of information beyond the domain name and embrace the ways in
which information stretches into social media and mobile platforms. We have to
redefine what a reader means to us and figure out a way to discern the overlap
and differences between a web reader, a Facebook fan, a Twitter follower, an
email subscriber or an app user.

In order to redefine the way we measure online readership,
we need to accept the fact that direct traffic and the homepage are becoming
less relevant. Today, readers start their day on Facebook, Twitter, email – unless
you are The New York Times, a local paper or a distinguished blog like Gawker,
I’m guessing you are seeing only about 20-30% direct traffic on any given day.  Also, we all understand the “bigger is better”
mentality when it comes to traffic, but unless you are willing to invest a lot
of money into staff, headline testing, and promoted content, you may find
yourself disappointed.

A 2012 study
by Time Inc
. reported that “digital natives switch their attention between
media platforms (i.e. TVs, magazines, tablets, smartphones or channels within
platforms) 27 times per hour, about every other minute.” It is no secret that our
attention is divided between screens and often we discover information through
a variety of platforms. Time on site is certainly a valuable metric, but given
the one-minute threshold for digital natives, anything longer than 2 minutes
may not be that realistic given shrinking attention spans. Metrics such as low
bounce rate and scroll time might be more accurate. [Note: Time Inc. is my
former employer.]

Finally, most publishers look at traffic in siloes. Readers
come by information in a myriad of ways and most publishers could do a better
job of connecting the identity of a user with site traffic. Publishers who seek
a dynamic, committed audience need to connect with readers the same way that
retailers and politicians connect with constituents:  through one to one
outreach and smart data techniques.

If you’re looking for tech solutions to these traffic
mapping problems, platforms such as Hubspot
help connect reader profiles with web traffic and help the publisher treat each
reader like the individual customer they are – complete with individual
outreach, follow up and tailored messaging. Other systems such as SailThru help to personalize content for
your readers and works to create a page view engine for your website.

There’s been an old adage on the web that
“content is king.” That is certainly true, but it doesn’t always equate to
large followings, more likely it’s niche audiences. My only exception is with
breaking news, which almost always drives relevancy and a fire hose of traffic.
But other than that, content alone – aggregated, opinionated, or original –
will not give you millions of visitors, though great content will certainly
improve your site viability and popularity online.

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