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Executive Report - By Thomas Baekdal - October 2014

Valuing Traffic Beyond Attention Minutes

The hot topic at the moment is 'attention minutes'. It's the idea that instead of looking at views or clicks, we start measuring how long people pay attention to something as a metric for value.

It's a very interesting concept that follows an ongoing trend of moving beyond hit based analytics. Back in 2011, in 'Identifying Your Real Readers, Not Just Traffic', I wrote about the importance of read-rates as a better metric than pageviews. I also explained how I am using readers instead of views as my primary metric.

Read rates and attention minutes are very much the same concept. Both measure not just when people arrive at your page, but also what they do on it.

On this site, for instance, I measure four things. I measure when people arrive, when they start to scroll, how fast it takes them to reach the end of the article, and based on that I determine if they are a reader or not.

When you start measuring things this way, you learn all kinds of fascinating things. For instance, you learn that you most popular articles rarely have a very high read-rate, especially not after they start to go viral. As your articles start to spread outside your core market, the noise to signal rate starts to create diminishing returns.

Another thing you learn is that your traffic is not as valuable as you think, especially when you look at one-time visitors. The read-rate for one time visitors on this site is about 25%. In other words, 75% of my new visitors are completely worthless. They do not even read the articles.

This has a big impact on things like expected conversion rates, something I see all too often with the publishers I have as clients. You might think you have 10 million pageviews, but if 75% of those never even read the article they click on, what chance do you think you have for converting them into subscribers?

Yep, no chance at all.

So, attention is an incredibly important metric, and it provides you with so much valuable information, which will literally change your entire outlook on what your business potential really is.

Note: Keep in mind that the 75% cited above is only for one-time visitors on this site. This number varies wildly from publication to publication.

However, another thing you learn when you start to look at 'attention' is that it's not that simple. In the old world of analytics, we often talk about the problem of 'last click'. As in, the problem that we analyze people's behavior based only on the last thing they did, and not the full number of steps they took along the path.

We all know how bad that is. Last click analytics is terrible. But it's not the 'click' that is terrible, it's the 'last' part. It's that it's the last metric. It's equally bad to only measure attention as the last thing people pay attention to.

I discovered this on this site as well. A while back, I started wondering why my read rate for my subscribers was lower than that of random visitors. Surely my subscribers would be more likely to read an article than just someone who had come across the site, but according to my read-rates that wasn't so.

So, I took a deeper look and I discovered that, because my articles are so long (with an average read time of 20 minutes), many of my subscribers would read it over a number of visits.

One subscriber might visit the page three times before they finally finished reading the whole thing. The result is that I get three pageviews, and only one of them being recorded as a 'read'. Hence, my read rate for that person dropped to 33%, when it was actually 100%.

This is the problem with last-[something] analytics. If you base your measurement on only the last thing that happened per visit/session, you just don't know if that data is accurate or not.

Of course, how bad this may be depends entirely on the type of content that you make. For viral snack sites like Upworthy, the last-attention metric is probably the only form of attention that they have. But if you are a publisher like the excellent The New Yorker, your traffic probably has a much more nuanced path.

And this is especially true when it comes to the many different business models that publishers have to tackle with today. There is a big difference between being based on selling ads and trying to sell subscriptions.

For advertising based media, attention minutes is a wonderful metric. But for a publication based on subscriptions, how much attention people spend per view is far less important than the accumulated attention patterns people have over time.

This all leads us to one very simple message:

Whether we talk about views, clicks, actions, or attention, don't just rely on a single metric.

Let's look at this from the point of advertising, subscriptions, loyalty, and brand conversions.

Attention versus advertising

The whole 'attention minute' concept originated from the world of advertising as a replacement for clicks and views, and I think we can all agree it's a far better metric. We are currently seeing many interesting things coming out of this, spearheaded by the wonderful people over at Chartbeat.

For instance, the Financial Times is currently doing an experiment selling ad space based on how much attention people give to ads. Instead of views or clicks, brands will buy 100 attention minutes, and it's an incredibly exciting model.

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Baekdal is a magazine for media professionals, focusing on media analysis, trends, patterns, strategy, journalistic focus, and newsroom optimization. Since 2010, it has helped publishers in more than 40 countries, including big and small publishers like Condé Nast, Bonnier, Schibsted, NRC, and others, as well as companies like Google and Microsoft.

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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