What we can learn from the new way Upworthy measures site traffic

Every brand and publisher often asks the same question: how much website traffic do I have?

It is a simple question with a less simple answer. There are lots of different kinds of traffic: direct, referral, organic, mobile. All of these are measured by a few common metrics: unique visits, pageviews, bounce rate and time on site.

From short blog posts to long form magazine pieces to videos to galleries to lists, lists and more lists, every publisher aims to perfect the presentation of information to readers in a way that is digestible and maximizes traffic returns.

Over the years, I have tested dozens of different ways to increase traffic and get content in front of people where they spend time online. From sharing content on social media to Search Engine Optimization to putting advertising dollars behind your best content to give it visibility on Outbrain, Taboola, Facebook or Twitter – there is no shortage of different ways to drive traffic to a website. You just have to know what levers to pull.

Once upon a time, direct traffic was once the most desirable traffic a brand could want, but it has become less relevant given that most people don’t just type in a website address anymore, but they find content through someone or somewhere else. This not only means that the homepage may become less important as a portal for information, but it also means that there needs to be more data-driven and engagement-driven traffic metrics that can be applied to individual articles.

A few months ago, I wrote about how we need to change the way we measure online readership and just last week, Upworthy announced that it now uses a new traffic metric: attention minutes.

See their explanation of what this means below:

Total Attention on Site (per hour, day, week, month, whatever) — which tells us (in terms of total uniques or total pageviews) how good of a job Upworthy is doing overall at drawing attention to important topics.

Total Attention per Piece, which is a combination of how many people watch something on Upworthy and how much of it they actually consume. Pieces with higher Total Attention will be promoted more.

By combining engagement metrics with traditional traffic metrics, Upworthy now has a greater understanding of what draws people in versus what keeps them reading online.

You can call them “attention minutes” or “engagement minutes” or watch the percentage of each article that is read all the way to the end as Chartbeat helps you to do. You can collect data about your readers to know if they are a mom, college student, professor or politician. By combining engagement metrics with data, you will be able understand who is reading your information and for how long and with how much enthusiasm, which seems much more substantive than the traditional volume metrics we’ve used for so long.

As the web has matured, so have publishers. Traditional traffic metrics don’t suffice anymore. And while Upworthy is known for generating massive amounts of uniques and pageviews through aggressive headline testing and viral content aggregation, it is not immune from the traffic highs and lows that every publisher faces.

In fact, right after Upworthy shared it’s “attention minutes” KPI, it was reported that they also faced major traffic losses in December and January. I’m not going to be so cynical as to think that the blog post on “attention minutes” was merely a proactive way to thwart criticism over these traffic losses, but I do think that every brand and publisher should realize that traffic is fickle and it pays to get to know how your readers engage with your content if you want to keep them coming back over and over again.

When it comes to driving online readership, the new adage could be: pay attention to them and they just might pay attention to you.

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