Why You Might be Measuring the Wrong Web Analytics
Having done some incarnation of online work for the last 17 years, I would bet that the number is into the hundreds of the times in which I have had to justify/sell/validate/excuse/explain the use of online tools and tactics (to many a dumb-ass boss). Now, with the advent rise and domination of some social media platforms, this has become a little easier.
While I no longer have to explain what a “page view” is (well, actually sometimes I do), most social media tools give me a sense of what we now ultimately call “engagement.” Page views, click throughs, Likes, Shares, Comments, and re-tweets. These are pretty numbers and even more impressive when you do things like add up the number of hashtag uses for a Twitter chat and the “impressions” number comes into the millions.
Are we measuring the right things?
Ultimately, when we talk about the social media/web person’s nirvana, it’s a page views, in whichever form it exists. This means that through advertising, social media, some other web site, email or direct link, some web surfer came to your page! Well, this is something that we’ve been trying to do since I started in the business. And the bigger the number, the easier it became to “sell in” your online projects as having had an impact.
Courtesy of my friend Eric Berto, I read a piece in yesterday’s Gigagom about a new service/product called “Chartbeat,” which has me questioning the metrics that we’ve been using for years. Here’s why:
- While page views is still the mother lode, unless you have a very sophisticated system, most analytics packages will give you total page views and average time on the page. It’s up to you to determine if this is “success.” Do 1,000 page views and an average time on your page constitute success? Maybe.
- Do a lot of page views mean that you have attained success? Well, maybe. It depends upon what you are comparing it to – it has to be apples to apples. I don’t compare this blog to the online version of the New York Times for obvious reasons, those being daily humiliation and feelings of inferiority.
- Finally, and something that I have talked about repeatedly (and in a September 15 post on this blog as well), your first step in ensuring that you online efforts are, at a minimum, measurable, and at a maximum, a success, is determining what success is.
Completely utter and random sidebar: my only problem with Chartbeat is the fact that, sadly and irritatingly, it reminds me of Don Johnson’s then horrendous and tortuous attempts at becoming a singer in his 1986 song “Heartbeat.” Now try and get it out of your head. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post.
So what is “success” and how is it measured?
The Gigaom piece I mentioned above talks about an intriguing. Rather than measuring the traditional factors like page views, here’s what Gigaom has to say about Chartbeat:
For some time now, media companies and content producers of various kinds have been trying to convince the rest of the industry — and especially advertisers — to move away from flawed measurements like pageviews and unique visitors and focus on measuring attention (emphasis mine). The Financial Times, the Economist and even viral sites like Upworthy have been at the forefront of this movement, and so has web analytics firm Chartbeat — and now Chartbeat says it has become the first analytics company that is certified to measure reader attention.”
Reader attention? I like the sound of that.
It’s great if you can get thousands of people to come to your web site, but you need to get their attention in order for them to read, digest, understand and perhaps even share your piece of content. There is a big difference between a click and someone actually digesting and internalizing what it is you want them to read: and having them take the action that you want them to take.
Here’s more about what Chartbeat says they offer, in an “Attention Economy“:
Chartbeat looks at a variety of factors…including what portion of the page is within the viewing window (so it can tell you how far down someone got in the article or piece of content). But the crucial one is to sense whether someone is actually looking at the page, and it does this by tracking movement or interaction — based on the fact the average user touches the mouse or keyboard at least once every 4.8 seconds.”
What would we all love? Well, for one, I would love to have heat maps of readers’ eye movements for everyone who hits your pages (I wrote about this and how recruiters read resumes for Shelly Kramer’s V3 Integrated Marketing Blog), but unless you have volunteers and labs, are NSA or North Korea, you are never going to have the ability to measure precisely how every single visitor reacts to every single piece of content on every single page of your web site.
I have not used Chartbeat, but am intrigued by the concept that a company has worked on ( for some time, apparently), figuring out what “engagement” actually means. Well, I believe that it means what we want it to mean – which is how much of an impact our content has on readers. Many different social media platforms use this term in their analytics dashboards, but their definitions vary. Engagement, as defined by Chartbeat, sounds like one of the better ways to measure something that has become an accepted, albeit highly subjective, industry standard.
So who’s right?
The answer is that I don’t know, and am passing along this information having read an article on third party site about a platform I have never used. BUT – and it’s a big “but,” if Chartbeat can actually accomplish what they claim to (and with some high profile initial clients like the Economist on board, there has to be something of value there) they are simply giving social media and online professionals the opportunity to further quantify and measure what we should have been doing all along: judging how much attention people paid to our content, vs. how many times they hit our pages.
Good luck, Chartbeat. Sounds like you are looking at the right things.
P.S. – If you are interested in PR measurement and analytics and don’t already know of their work, I strongly encourage you to get to know Katie Paine and Shonali Burke. I’m hopeful to hear from them in the comments as they know a LOT more about this topic than I.