What is the most important metric for a digital publisher?
One has told me that “the currency we trade in” (which I think, in saying ‘We’ he meant both his company and mine) is page impressions.
The other figure tossed around is unique users/browser – which is a pretty cringeworthy term we all use but really shouldn’t.
It makes sense I guess. TV networks main currency is viewers and magazines/print’s main currency is readers.
I know that TV audiences are based on an average figure – so there is an element of quality control in the numbers. With print and magazines I’m not so sure but I don’t think there’s a quality component (ie you have to be a regular reader, or purchase or read once every x days/weeks).
With digital maybe it’s time we started trading in deeper data than just page impressions and users.
Well – both are reasonably easy to game and don’t give anyone a particularly good idea of the quality of users and the quality of the media brand.
Page Impressions can, and are, gamed every day. Slideshows are one way to do this. Articles over multiple pages is another. Clunky UI is another. There is almost an incentive to make the user jump through a few hoops – it increases the amount of inventory one can sell.
Case in point – someone can spend 1 minute on a news site and watch a 40 slide slide show. This user will register 40 page impressions … which seems like they’re incredibly engaged … the reality is they’re not. They spent a minute on the site. The problem with the data is right now you can’t distinguish.
Unique Users is also a funny one. There’s no distinguishing between a user who views one page by accident and never returns to the property … and a user who returns daily and views 100’s of pages. One could argue that if a user stays for less than a minute and views 1-2 pages and never returns that they’re not really a ‘user’ … they are just someone who has stumbled in by accident, not found what they’re after and left never to return.
So when you hear spin like ‘3.8m Australian’s turn to us every month for the news they need’ the reality is often a lot different.
How often are they turning to you? How many never return? How long are they on your site for?
It’s a lot different than 1.5m people watching a new bulletin nightly for 30 minutes. Or the Herald Sun paper daily without fail and reading it over breakfast for 30 mins. Let’s not kid ourselves.
Personally I think it’s weird that there is such dedication to boosting page impressions when most publishers can’t sell the inventory they have at the price they’d like to – and large chunks (30-50%) are sold via low cost remnant arrangements.
Tony Faure on this blog almost a year ago was asking for “less quant, more qual” measurement and I agree with him.
Qualitative measures are a way for suppliers to illustrate their point of difference, because everyone has big numbers around PIs and UBs so ultimately the huge amounts of supply will ensure the CPMs continue to decrease as demand isn’t keeping up.
Anyway – when Page Impressions and Unique Browsers are your key currency it surely impacts the end product as the incentive is to boost traffic and page views regardless of the quality of these. If, at the end of the month, all you’re looking at is PVs and UB’s, you’re missing out on the quality metrics which distinguish what a media brand can offer.
If you look at the top 3 news providers in AU they’re all effectively the same.
They have a similar audience at the end of the day. They have similar loyalty. They have comparable content. They all have hundreds of millions of pageviews.
Would you pay any more for one than the other – probably not. Why? Because they’re pretty much the same thing with a different header. They don’t communicate enough about the qualitative elements that make their audience any different to that of their competitors. Either they don’t know … or they do and they’re not sharing it … or they can’t communicate it simply.
So … can we move beyond these metrics? What do they really mean? I can’t see the story they’re trying to sell unless we add some further data around quality.
And without these quality metrics I can’t see yield increasing any time soon – for that to happen advertisers need way more clarity around what they’re getting. Not smoke and mirrors.