Online traffic and metrics


The politics of reforming digital audience metrics — don’t underestimate the status quo

Long-time critics of imprecise unique visitor and page view metrics like me have had reason to cheer in recent months.

Both the Financial Times and Economist have started to offer advertisers the alternative of rates based on time spent rather than raw traffic numbers.

Chartbeat corrected a major flaw in existing measures of time spent, then got its system “accredited” by the influential Media Ratings Council. And Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile has been an effective evangelist in interviews and speeches for a more sophisticated way of looking at the attention of digital audiences.

That’s real progress. But plowing through dozens of articles and interviewing a few key sources, I have concluded that it is way early to declare victory and a new day dawning in digital measurement.

Oddly, although we like to think of the digital world as fast-moving and progressive, there is an established status quo for counting digital audiences backed by powerful vested interests who remain mostly happy with the unholy triad of uniques, page views and clickthroughs.

Start with the digital big guys — Facebook, Google, Yahoo, AOL. They lead the pack in traffic volume as conventionally measured. With targeting capabilities, they suck up a huge share of digital ad spend — even more now with the shift to smartphones than they already did in the desktop/laptop era.

Uniques and page views have also been good to the most popular start-up digital-only content providers — Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Upworthy and more.

A more surprising source of resistance is a large slice of the advertising industry, as spotlighted in Ad Age’s excellent takeout a month ago, “Is Digital Advertising Ready to Ditch the Click?” It summarized the resistance this way.

“Agencies are among the entrenched interests,” said Benjamin Zeidler, director-research and analytics at digital-marketing agency Tenthwave. “They’re good at buying ads. They know how to do it. It’s probably scary to change the mode of how they do business — how they sell it, price and benchmark it.”

Also, as you may have heard, these are boom times for “programmatic buying” — eliminating the middle men of sales people and media planners and instead relying on algorithms to locate and book available inventory at the lowest possible rate. Thoughtful consideration of a range of attention metrics would only get in the way of that process.

Pay-per-click may be a relic of the early days of internet advertising. But the measure still makes sense for a certain kind of ad — trying to grab attention for the unfamiliar — like the pitches for Harry’s Razors or the Bellroy Skinny Wallet that stalk me as I move around the web.

A middle-of-the-road constituency may buy in intellectually to a case for more varied metrics, but as a practical business matter needs to keep selling the way most advertisers are buying.

That was the drift of a thoughtful rejoinder from News Corp.’s Raju Narisetti to an earlier screed of mine this spring denouncing uniques and page views. In his view, some of this kind of criticism comes from print traditionalists who would prefer not to give audience metrics a prominent role in news coverage decisions.

Narisetti made the additional good point that metrics like page views per visit or repeat visits per month, “variations on relatively conventional” measures, are a reasonable way to identify attention.

Trade groups like the Newspaper Association of America and the MPA magazine association also do versions of the straddle. Both have working groups exploring new metrics that may capture what they see as unique strengths of their digital offerings for advertisers. But neither is abandoning the standard measures just yet.

NAA, for instance, puts out regular releases on industry gains in uniques and page views. That has always been a charm of the two measures — between the steady movement of audience to digital platforms and the easy tricks available to inflate the numbers, a growth story is all but sure to emerge.

Another slightly different middle ground position fits auditing, rating and standards groups like the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly ABC), Nielsen and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. They naturally watch carefully for any new metric offerings in their core business. The IAB even has instigated important reform with work showing that the majority of “impressions” as measured a few years ago were not even seen (because they did not load fast enough or were too low on a screen page).

But the heart of the auditors’ business interest is that if something new is going to be measured, they want the contract to be the recognized verifier of those numbers. For example, Nielsen, facing some new disruptive competitors like Rentrak, announced Tuesday a collaboration with Adobe on a new set of measures it is developing for digital viewing of television shows and other video.

I also need to concede that the reformers have a self-serving agenda of their own. The Economist and Financial Times have strong paywalls, dedicated high-demographic readers but relatively modest total audience numbers. So it is to their advantage to shift the discussion with marketers to time spent engaged with their quality content and accompanying ad messages.

Chartbeat and CEO Haile have made a great case for the flaws in traditional measures and the logic of shifting to time and attention (which are finite) from “impressions” which seem to multiply endlessly and are often fleeting at best.

Chartbeat in its accredited “time spent” measure also did the good deed of correcting earlier stabs at such a metric — the loophole that counted a tab left open while the user shifted to something else conceivably for minutes or hours, as time on site. The Chartbeat refinement is that “time spent” is counted only if some indicator of viewer action registers every five seconds.

Haile also announced this week that he will make the company’s methodology public, aiming for even further credibility, accepting some risk of giving away competitive secrets to a knock-off vendor.

All that said, Chartbeat (and the similarly oriented Moat in the video sphere) are fighting the good fight for what they have to sell against established competitors who have built a good share of their business around uniques, page views and clicks.

More sophisticated digital agencies like Razorfish are also in the camp advocating a combination of metrics and strategies they provide that are missing from more perfunctory ad placement methods.

Where does this state of play leave legacy media or local digital startups in searching for a business model in the digital sun? Even the pioneers like the Financial Times are hedging their bets — their minutes viewed metric is being offered to a limited number of pilot advertisers in a beta test (going well according to Haile) while the majority of ads are still sold the old-fashioned way.

I would look for companies like the New York Times, with good raw traffic numbers, to also explore alternative attention metrics. And the trade associations are likely to at least give a nudge to consideration of a suite of metrics in measuring audience and pricing ads rather than just the conventional big three.

Jerry Hill, Gannett’s top audience executive and chairman of the newly formed NAA task force, told me the group is starting by surveying advertisers and agencies about “what they look at” now in evaluating effectiveness. The next step, he said would be to identify new measures that could be validated and “communicated out in simple terms.”

The MPA has launched what it calls the “360-degree brand audience report,” a monthly update by participating magazine sites that measures audience on multiple dimensions in a standardized format, including, for instance, referrals from five social media channels.

Mark Contreras, then of E.W. Scripps, led a crusade for better digital audience metrics during his term as NAA chairman in 2009. He hoped to establish a better “gold standard,” perhaps with a nudge from government, as happened with a move from chaotic claims from competing vendors measuring television audience in the 1950s and early 1960s to the agreed-upon methodology Nielsen and others now follow.

A gold standard does not appear in the cards right now, but movement to a more  varied and logical set of metrics has at least started. Contreras, now CEO of a small private TV and newspaper company, Calkins Media, told me in a phone interview that the logic remains unchanged: “For local papers, relying on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) economy is not going to grow digital ad revenue as we need to.”

One alternative, Contreras added, is to “find niches and sell sponsorships” on roughly the same principle as “soap operas did in the 1950s,” aimed at stay-at-home housewives. Targeting is more important than a raw audience count for a sports site or a food site, and smartphone apps or specialized sites lend themselves to the “brought to you by…” format.

A number of the articles on this fall’s metrics developments stumbled upon the same summary phrase — “a step in the right direction.” That seems about right. The current system is unlikely to be turned on its head anytime soon.  But content providers who think they can offer sustained attention are beginning to get some tools to make the case to advertisers that they offer a superior value. Read more


Star Tribune runs ad bashing transgender kids

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. News Corp buys online real estate business: Move, Inc., owns, and ListHub. News Corp will “turbo-charge traffic growth” to Move’s properties, and it will “benefit from the high-quality geographic data generated by real estate searches,” CEO Robert Thomson says. (BusinessWire) | Last year Move “reported $600,000 in profit atop $227 million in revenue.” (NYT)
  2. Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an ad bashing transgender kids: The Minnesota Child Protection League ran a full-page ad Sunday in an attempt to influence the Minnesota State High School League, which may “approve a new policy that would allow transgender students to participate in athletics based on their gender identity.” Strib VP Steve Yaeger tells Aaron Rupar: “The ad in question met all the requirements of our ad policy.” (Minneapolis City Pages) | Earlier this year the Strib took some heat for how it reported on a transgender person. (Minneapolis City Pages)
  3. Esquire botches attack on ESPN: There was no all-male domestic violence panel planned, ESPN said Monday. (Deadspin) | Esquire apologized for that and for “saying that ESPN is not in the business of journalism,” Hearst Digital editorial director Kate Lewis writes in a note on the piece. Esquire is owned by Hearst, which has a 20 percent stake in ESPN, Jeremy Barr reports. “A Hearst spokesperson did not respond directly to a Capital inquiry about whether the company’s investment in ESPN played a role in the apology.” (Capital) | Despite the apology, Esquire kept a sentence that said “ESPN is not a company in the business of journalism” in the story until later that evening. (WP) | Craig Silverman finds articles with the erroneous information were shared far more widely than articles that corrected it. (Emergent)
  4. Roxane Gay will edit cultural criticism site: The Toast has hired the bestselling author to head up a new site called The Butter. (Capital) | Not at all related but this was the only item I could wedge it into: Piers Morgan will write commentary for Daily Mail Online. (Politico)
  5. Newsweek places editor’s note over Zakaria archives: “Fareed Zakaria worked for Newsweek when it was under previous ownership,” the note, which also rides along on Zakaria’s archived articles, says. “Readers are advised that some of his articles have been the subject of complaints claiming that they contain material that should have been attributed to others.” (Poynter) | “New Fun Trawling Through Fareed Zakaria’s @Newsweek Archives, Part 1″ (@blippoblappo)
  6. Will Bill Simmons stay at ESPN? He “did not think that what he said or how he said it was worthy of one of the harshest suspensions in ESPN history,” John Ourand reported Friday in a tick-tock of how ESPN decided to put its star on ice. Simmons’ contract will be up next year, Ourand writes, and “it will be interesting to see whether this suspension derails those talks.” (SportsBusiness Daily) | The clash reflects a generational conflict at ESPN, Jason McIntyre reported Friday. “The old guard has its fingers crossed they can pester and annoy Simmons to the point that he pulls the trigger on a plan they claim he’s been mulling after spending so much time in Hollywood: decamp from ESPN to a venture capital-backed solo operation with contributions from his West Coast buddies Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla.” (The Big Lead) | Erik Wemple: Suspensions “are effective primarily in forgetting and neglecting the root causes of the stupidity that materializes on air.” (WP)
  7. Chartbeat can now measure readers’ attention: The Media Ratings Council has approved Chartbeat’s bid to measure attention rather than pageviews or unique visitors. (Gigaom) | “If you’re dealing with something where you can prove attention better, you can charge more,” Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile tells Andrew Nusca. (Fortune) | Haile noted in February that there is “effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.” (The Verge) | Rick Edmonds in March: “Time to ditch uniques and page views for engagement in measuring digital audiences” (Poynter)
  8. RIP Joe Nawrozki: The investigative reporter worked for three Baltimore newspapers, dug up political corruption among pols, and “taught martial arts for more than 40 years.” He died Saturday. He was 70. (The Baltimore Sun)
  9. Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare: Taiwan’s Apple Daily fronts the Hong Kong protests. (Courtesy Newseum)


  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Ann Shoket will be a consultant for Hearst. Previously, she was editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine. (Capital) | Kal Penn will be a special correspondent for Fusion. Previously, he was associate director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. (Politico) | Richard Tomko is now publisher of amNewYork. Previously, he was a consultant at Boost Digital. (Email) | Tony Brancato is now executive director of Web products and audience development at The New York Times. Previously, he was head of product for the Web there. (The New York Times) | Sandy Johnson is now president and chief operating officer at The National Press Foundation. Previously, she was the excecutive editor at (National Press Foundation) | Jeff Simon will be a video producer at CNN. He’s a producer for The Washington Post. (@jjsimonWP) | Cynthia Littleton will be Variety’s managing editor for television. Previously, she was editor-in-chief of television. Claudia Eller and Andrew Wallenstein are now co-editors-in-chief at Variety. Eller was editor-in-chief of film at Variety. Wallenstein was editor-in-chief of digital there. (Variety) | Sonya Thompson will be director of news projects for Tribune Media Group. She was news director for WJW in Cleveland. Mitch Jacob will be news director at WJLA. He was news director for WSYX in Columbus. Jamie Justice will be news director at WSYX in Columbus. Previously, she was assistant news director there. Rob Cartwright is now news director for KEYE in Austin. Previously, he was news director for WSYR in Syracuse. Jeff Houston is now news director for WBMA in Birmingham. Previously, he was an assistant news director there. (Rick Gevers) | James VanOsdol has been named newsroom program manager at Rivet News Radio. He is an anchor at HearHere Radio LLC. (Robert Feder) | Job of the day: Politico is looking for a tax reporter. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves:

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: Read more

Web traffic concept in word tag cloud on black

In defense of ‘vanity’ metrics: why page views are still important

Editor’s note: On Monday, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds argued for new ways to measure digital audiences that would replace the widely used unique visitors and page views. In this post, News Corp’s Raju Narisetti takes a contrary view. Portions of this post appeared previously in a Newspaper Association of America blog.

I remain a big fan of page views per visit (a sign of engagement) and repeat visits (a sign of loyalty) as variations on relatively conventional — and important — metrics that are still critical to both our journalism and the business model that supports our journalism.

Only those who don’t have a successful growing digital advertising revenue stream — along with vendors, media critics and pundits that don’t need to fund newsroom P&Ls — seem to think of page views (the audience articulation of ad impressions) as “vanity” or outmoded metrics.

While it is critical that our industry evolves and adapts, and new ideas around better metrics are a key part of that journey, wishful thinking on new fangled metrics don’t necessarily mean we can simply abandon what works — and I dare say, works OK.

I am also keen on metrics that help drive conversions — and these will vary by newsroom and business model — of “guests” (your one-and-done type visitors) to “readers” (often registered but not paying) to “subscribers” (paying readers) to “members” (those who avail themselves of other non-content led benefits of subscribing.)

These metrics remain a work-in-progress in various News Corp newsrooms globally but, eventually, will be the primary focus of how we need to manage our newsrooms and news publishing companies when it comes to audience data. I am wary of “time spent” metrics simply because of the complexity of measuring that and the resulting assumptions and inaccuracies that usually creep in.

The real challenge still remains that print-centric newsrooms have long derided audience engagement data — unique visitors, page views — as pandering and click-bait. And clearly newsrooms with a brand expectation and reputation to protect have to be wary of negative tipping points on metrics, unlike many newer brands that are scaling audiences quickly, often as part of a “financial exit” strategy.

But that mainstream derision has also become an easy crutch to continue to live in an outdated, but safe print cocoon of believing every story, especially if it makes the front page, is read by most readers, independent of evidence, and applying that same thinking in many ways to Web and apps, especially regarding story choices and newsroom curation of marquee pages/sections.

Editors continue to have a key gatekeeper role to play even in this era of promiscuous audiences, even when they need to become gate-openers. Part of that is exercising good judgment. And if we didn’t do that, stories on Syria, the U.S. fiscal cliff and even the NSA wouldn’t continue to get the play they currently get on our home pages, especially if such decisions were purely based on following cues from reader-engagement metrics.

But the news business is in an existential crisis fueled by dramatic shifts in how our audiences engage with our content. To continue to ignore the reality of being able to see often in real-time and measure and course-correct based on digital engagement data and metrics, is a self-inflicted wound that will see our audiences migrate in big numbers to those upstarts that seem to do this as part of their DNA.

In a slow-burn crisis like the ones many newsrooms are facing (or ignoring), I would rather that mainstream newsrooms risk doing too much with metrics — because that is easy to correct — than do too little, under false ideological or ossified church-and-state arguments. These conveniently cover up the disdain many editors continue to have for actual reader feedback, downplaying the decision-making value of reader metrics.

There has been growing concern expressed, somewhat naively and often by those not inside newsrooms, that mainstream news brands will fall prey to journalism by the numbers if they, heaven forbid, start their morning meetings by looking at audience metrics. In most mainstream newsrooms that I am familiar with, I actually wouldn’t worry too much about falling victim to such Chicken Little fears of data-driven decision-making or an extreme obedience to metrics and resulting tactics, such as A/B testing 15 headlines or playing Russian roulette with story choices on home pages based on click-bait models. That is because of a whole slew of rather benign, practical reasons that govern the day-to-day behaviors of mainstream newsrooms, including:

• The sheer volume of original journalism a Wall Street Journal or a New York Times newsroom produces every day, compared to an Upworthy or some such curator/aggregator with a penchant for rewriting headlines;
• The (sad) prevalence of not-too-nimble publishing systems for Web output, which actually make it difficult for many mainstream newsrooms to react too quickly to reader data:
• The reluctance of product and advertising teams at many mainstream media companies to challenge newsroom arguments and decisions, even on obvious audience engagement issues and especially in terms of linking content choices to converting readers to subscribers;
• The notable absence of an A/B testing culture or easy-to-use tools in most mainstream newsrooms, even if they exist a bit on the product or tech side;
• The lip-service still paid to linking performance of journalists, including key editors, to outcomes, especially digital outcomes
and, thankfully, the existence of many, many editors in mainstream newsrooms who actually do have a good journalistic and ethical sense of responsibility with regard to story choices and play decisions.

Many mainstream newsroom editors are rather well compensated to bring their expertise and experience to story and display choices. In the traditional newspaper world, they were all we had to go by. In the digital world, smarter newsrooms — both editors and publishers — are marrying that core expertise and experience with actual data, moving a little further away from just a “tummy compass” (aka gut feel) approach, to a genuine mix-and-match of data and judgment.

Big (and little) data, and our emphasis on it, should always be as a complementary, gut-check verification asset, and an opportunity to form deeper relationships with our readers, not a wholesale replacement for sound journalistic practices.

Raju Narisetti is senior vice president, strategy, for News Corp. A summer intern at The Wall Street Journal in 1991, he spent 15 years there as deputy managing editor of The Journal, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, and editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. In-between, he was managing editor of the Washington Post Co. He is the founding editor of Mint, India’s second-largest business newspaper. A trustee of the International Institute of Education, which administers the Fulbright fellowships, he is also on the board of ICFJ, the International Center for Journalists. He tweets, often way too early in the morning. Follow him @raju. Read more

Young woman in office working on desktop

Time to ditch uniques and page views for engagement in measuring digital audiences

When Nieman Lab’s Josh Benton asked me in December for a New Year’s prediction, I leaned toward the bombastic and led my wish list for 2014 as follows:

Ditch uniques and develop a better metric. Then-Newspaper Association of America president Mark Contreras was right when he made this case four years ago. It still hasn’t happened. One- or two-time visitors are not a business opportunity — they are an accident.

So we are two-and-a-half months into the year, and I am sorry to report that uniques and its evil twin, page views, are still with us — offered as the basic yardstick for digital audience for both individual sites and whole industries.

But I took cheer last week when three separate sources made the case that attention and engagement matter more.

Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile led off with an iconoclastic essay for titled “What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong.”

Chartbeat’s existence and success are themselves indicators of the imperative to get beyond clicks. Chartbeat’s products are real-time measures of traffic, time on story and time on site that editors rely on for decisions on how to play pieces and how long to leave them up in a prominent position.

In my recent profile of USA Today, I found that its national news desk, like many other digital operations, keeps a billboard-size display of Chartbeat indicators in plain view.

Haile’s whole piece is worth reading. His lead graf postulates:

We confuse what people have clicked on for what they’ve read. We mistake sharing for reading. We race towards new trends like native advertising without fixing what was wrong with the old ones and make the same mistakes all over again.

He continues his case that attention should trump visits and clicks:

At the core of the Attention Web are powerful new methods of capturing data that can give media sites and advertisers a second-by-second, pixel-by-pixel view of user behavior. If the click is the turnstile outside a stadium, these new methods are the TV control room with access to a thousand different angles. The data these methods capture provide a new window into behavior on the web and suggests that much of the facts we’ve taken for granted just ain’t true.

Other highlights:

  • An internal Chartbeat study of 2 billion visits found that stories with strong news content far exceeded clickbait in time spent.
  • Many people who share stories on social media do not actually read them. Ditto the recipients. The same internal research found that only eight of 100 articles read were accessed by Facebook and only one in 100 via Twitter.
  • Banner advertising is not as dead nor are native ads as vibrant  as current coverage would have you believe. Part of the reason, Haile said, is that nearly two-thirds of those accessing a home page go “below the fold” of the first screen to see what else is being featured.

Jeff Jarvis, with whom I don’t always agree, played off Haile’s piece in a BuzzMachine post on:

What the right metrics for media ought to be….How do we create positive feedback loops that improve the news not degrade it as uniques, page views and other relics of mass media have done?

Drawn from his persistent efforts at City University of New York to birth sustainable local news sites, Jarvis considers time spent (maybe efficiency summarizing news should matter too), then suggests several other measures of engagement: outcomes, follows, bookmarks, citations and embeds.

Finally my colleagues at Pew Research (whose annual State of the News Media report will be out a week from today) offered a study documenting what you might expect — direct visitors to websites spend more than double the time there than those who come via a Facebook referral, search or other side doors.

As this post is being edited and produced, I am on my way to Denver for the annual Newspaper Association of American mediaXchange conference. I will be moderating several panels and auditing the rest.

The great metrics debate is not formally on the agenda but may come up in segments on big data, a new American Press Institute study of audience behavior tracking news and another panel on advertisers’ perspective.

If I hear something new, I will report on it when I’m back. Read more

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Three simple Google tools journalists can adopt to draw traffic

Google is increasingly emphasizing the ways it can be of service to the media, and the company held a summit in Chicago last week sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association and Northwestern University’s Knight Lab.

I won’t get into the weeds of how to build Fusion Tables or use the Maps Engine in this recap of the event — see Google’s new Media Tools site for detailed resources. Instead, here are three simple strategies for taking advantage of Google’s products that you can implement right away.

1. Sign up for Google+ Authorship

Google’s Nicholas Whitaker opened a session on Google+ by asking how many of us had a Google+ profile. Most of us raised our hands. Then he asked how many of us actually use our Google+ profiles. The majority of those hands went down, triggering laughter.

To be fair, a comprehensive introduction to any social network, including Facebook and Twitter, would likely be as overwhelming as this one was. The difference is that getting people to use Facebook and Twitter never required quite as much convincing — adoption happened more organically, whereas using Google+ feels like jumping through fiery hoops at a circus with sparse attendance.

I’m still not convinced diverting major social-media resources to Google+ posts makes sense, but news organizations and individual journalists should take a minute to sign up for Authorship. If you have an email address on the same domain as your content (e.g. an email if you write for, it’s easy to link your bylined stories that show up in Google Search with your Google+ profile and other articles you’ve written. That’s good for discoverability and doesn’t require any extra work once you’ve set it up.

Google is, of course, the dominant search engine. So that makes this hoop worth jumping through even if you don’t buy into the social sharing aspect of Google+. Noted Whitaker: “As a journalist, the best thing to do is take ownership of your Google+ profile and your authorship online.”

2. Try Google URL shortener

The folks at Google didn’t lead a session on this particular tool, but Fernando Diaz, the managing editor of Hoy, Tribune’s Spanish-language paper in Chicago, said during a panel that his publication uses Google URL Shortener. A big advantage over Bitly: It breaks down clicks by browser (such as Safari vs. Firefox vs. Chrome) and platform (such as Macintosh vs. Linux vs. Windows).

How many of your readers visit you via mobile devices? Which devices, and at what time of day? These answers can help determine the best time to tweet stories, and whether to use mobile-friendly links if you have them.

One caveat: These analytics are public, so if you want your click analytics to be proprietary, Google URL Shortener isn’t for you. But it’s a good option for journalists who want a very simple way to track what’s happening to their links after they tweet them or tout them with a Facebook post.

3. Become more visible on Google News

News organizations can’t afford to miss out on the referral possibilities from Google News aggregation, so Google’s Natalie Gross offered best practices for making sure the crawler picks up your stories as efficiently as possible — by submitting a Google News Sitemap, for example.

Publishers should also be aware of keyword metatags to emphasize subject matter that might not be obvious from certain headlines (see: “WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG”) and the standout tag, which can be used up to seven times per week for significant stories.

Related: Google gathers tools for journalists in one spot Read more


News organizations can now see how their content performs on Pinterest

The image-sharing network Pinterest released a new analytics tool this week that serves up lots of data about how its users engage with your website’s content.

Here are some of the questions you can now answer pretty easily. Read more


The metrics we really need from Twitter are not the metrics we have

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams acknowledged Monday that available metrics like follower counts are not great measures of success.

At a panel discussion in New York hosted by BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti, Williams said the follower count “doesn’t capture your distribution. … The dream metric is how many people saw your tweet.”

And coming from Williams, that’s not just wishful thinking. He currently sits on the Twitter board of directors and oversees the company’s product strategy. So is Twitter working on a better measurement tool for users, and what would it look like?

We know Twitter has an analytics service that so far is offered only to advertisers. It measures things like the number of retweets, mentions and clicks for each tweet, the number of followers gained and lost over time.

That would be a nice start. Unfortunately, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo just told the Online News Association convention there’s still no timeline for when its analytics might be available to non-advertisers.

There are several layers of potential metrics that would be helpful to Twitter users. Currently we have good measurement tools for some, workarounds for a few and almost no idea about the others.

  • Follower count: We know this number now, it’s just not very useful, as Williams said. In addition, it would be useful to know more about the geography and demographics of followers.
  • Active followers: We should know how many of our followers are real people who use Twitter regularly. A third-party tool called Fake Follower Check attempts to analyze how many of your followers are either fake or inactive users. It’s not perfect, though — it only takes a sample of your followers and it relies on educated guesses about their status.
  • Reached followers: How many of your active followers were exposed to a particular tweet? Only a fraction of Twitter users are active at any given time, so it would be extremely helpful to know the number that actually read your last 140 characters. This is deeply internal data that only Twitter itself could provide. The upside of Twitter’s recent crusade to push users toward its own website and apps is that tracking users’ activity may be more feasible.
  • Engaged followers: How many users not only read your tweet but did something with it (retweeted, replied, favorited, clicked, etc.)? And which of those engagement actions did they take? These are the metrics Twitter’s current analytics system tracks best. You can also get imperfect measurements through Bitly click data, the “” referrals in your website analytics, or engagement trackers like Twentyfeet or Crowdbooster.
  • Non-followers reached and engaged: Finally, this metric would tell you how productive your engaged followers were in extending the reach of your tweets. You got five retweets? Great, but how many more impressions and engagement actions did those people produce from their own followers? This also is data Twitter itself would have to provide, although services like Tweetreach can add up the total number of followers a tweet potentially could have reached.

Analytics is one area where Facebook is miles ahead of Twitter. Facebook Page administrators get access to the Insights tool, with metrics such as total likes, total people engaged and total people reached. You can drill down through those metrics for individual posts or time periods, and you can get demographic and geographic breakdowns of the audience.

It’s long past time for Twitter to catch up. Here’s hoping Williams is pushing the company in that direction.

Related: Pew: 16% of Americans use Twitter | Twitter eyes big names to join its board of directors (All Things D) Read more


Study: Smaller news websites depend more on social media for traffic than larger sites

In any local market, the dozens or hundreds of available news websites make up a news ecosystem.

In any real-life nature ecosystem — think of the food chain diagram you learned in 5th grade — the many species develop their own roles. They are all different, but also all interdependent.

The same is true for news websites in an ecosystem.

New research published today looks in-depth at those relationships in one sample market (Chicago) by analyzing and mapping the connections between more than 300 websites that make up the core of the ecosystem.

The study, conducted by Northwestern professor Rich Gordon and Syndio Social CEO Zachary Johnson and paid for by The Chicago Community Trust, over a two-week period examined all the links between 301 news websites and obtained analytics data about referral sources for about 100 of those sites.

Below are some of the interesting takeaways.

Social media matters, especially for small sites

Overall, the websites in the Chicago ecosystem got more than 23 percent of all their referrals from social media. Facebook drove 18.9 percent; Twitter 4.4 percent.

But social media’s share of referrals for any specific site varied greatly depending on its size. Small websites got more than half their referrals from social media, while the large sites got only about 19 percent from social.

Facebook referrals are extremely important to small news sites.

That was one of the most surprising findings, but there are a lot more in the study.

Particularly interesting is the researchers’ ability to map the link connections between the hundreds of websites and analyze the role each one plays in the ecosystem.

The graphic below, for instance, shows the tendency of certain groups of news websites to form clusters that are much more likely to link among themselves than to any other site. Each circle represents a website, each line represents links between them.

Color key: Red: Newcity sites; Green: Sun-Times sites; Yellow: Tribune sites; Blue: Patch sites; Purple: Other sites. The largest “other” sites are, clockwise from the top: Huffington Post, Gapers Block, Windy Citizen, The Expired Meter and Progress Illinois.

Ninety-two percent of Patch links went to other Patch sites. The same internal-linking bias was seen with 90 percent of Newcity site links, 82 percent of Tribune Co., site links and 80 percent of Sun-Times links.

“In the diagram,” the study says, “it is easy to see that groups of sites operated by New City, the Sun‐Times, Tribune Co., and Patch link heavily amongst themselves. There is even some clustering within these groups, such as with Patch, where it is split into two clusters for the northern suburbs and the western suburbs.”

“Authorities” vs. “Hubs”

Legacy sites like The Chicago Tribune and independent Web startups like Gapers Block play different roles, but both depend on the larger ecosystem.

The study used its data to map these relative roles. One role, for instance, is the authorities — the websites with the most inbound links from other websites. Most are the legacy media brands.

The Tribune is the news site most often linked to by other news sites in Chicago.

Then there are the hubs — the sites “that guide users to relevant information on other sites” through their outbound links. Here we see a different set of leading websites; the circle size represents the volume of outbound links.

The Huffington Post is the most prominent “hub” driving traffic to others.

Another class of websites serve as the main connections between the different clusters of websites and audiences. The study labels these the switchboards.

“Switchboards,” the study explains, “connect nodes that would otherwise not be connected at all — or, if removed from the network, would require users to make many more clicks to travel from one site to another site.”

The chart below shows how prominent switchboards tie the ecosystem together.

Nine of the top 10 switchboards also appeared among the top 10 authorities or hubs.

Small sites depend on the ecosystem

Overall, the websites in the Chicago news ecosystem received 8.5 percent of their total visits via referrals from other sites in the ecosystem. But, much like with social media, the ecosystem is much more important to the smaller members.

Large websites like the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times got just 2.2 percent of their visits from ecosystem referrals. Small and medium sites got 25 percent (11 times more) of their visits from other members.

In the big picture, the study shows connection and interdependence among the hundreds of websites in a local market. And it recommends that all publishers should link more often to other sites in their ecosystem.

“Sites that link out a lot also can get links back,” the study says. “At a national level, has demonstrated this — and Huffington Post Chicago has quickly become one of the most influential sites in the local market.” The site launched in 2008.

But clearly, these results show the power of networks is much more essential to the growth of the smaller websites than the larger ones. The big legacy brands may have other media products and may draw some national audience from outside the market.

For the local sites with a niche focus, it it extremely important they connect with the audience on social media and connect with their peer sites through links.

You an explore the data through an online dashboard the researchers created.

Related: Ranking Chicago’s online news sites
Read more


News websites avoid August doldrums to reach record Web traffic

Fishbowl NY | Forbes | Guardian | Mediaite
August is traditionally thought to be a slow news month, and overall Web traffic has sagged more than 14 percent in Augusts past.

But something about this past month (Olympics? The RNC? Hurricane Isaac?) pushed many big news websites to record-high Web traffic.

Drudge Report: “THANKS FOR MAKING AUGUST ’12 THE SINGLE BIGGEST MONTH IN DRUDGEREPORT’S 17 YEAR HISTORY!,” says the site’s Facebook page, which reports 943 million pageviews last month from around the world.

The Atlantic: “All three of The Atlantic’s digital brands —, and — posted record-setting numbers in August. grabbed 10.8 million unique visitors,” Fishbowl NY reports. Read more


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