Positive web analytics can brighten a digital publisher’s day in all sorts of ways — including some rather misleading ones. You may be cheered by high page view and impression counts on your website, but an increasing number of publishers (and the advertisers who support them) are turning away from page views as the dominant factor in determining digital success. Let’s explore why page views have been usurped from their throne by the new crown prince of the realm, audience engagement.
Page Views: An Incomplete Story
For many years, page views ruled the roost as the state of the art for websites seeking to measure their popularity with their audiences, and thus their desirability to advertisers. Click-bait headlines became commonplace as readers were suckered into clicking onto pages that didn’t really have anything to interest them, boosting page views whether anybody actually read the content or not. But this practice has been called out as the essentially meaningless number-farming that it is — to the point that Facebook has announced a crackdown on click-bait headlines posted on it.
Engagement: The Modern State of Success
Website owners and advertisers have come to realize that engagement is a much more important measuring stick than page views. Engaged readers don’t just click onto a page, sigh with disappointment and then depart — they stick around, absorbing the content, reading the ads, and searching for more of the same. Engaged readers become repeat visitors, then loyal followers and finally customers. That’s where the money is.
How to Track Engagement
One advantage that page views retain over engagement is how easy they are to track — after all, they’re just tabulations of raw numbers. But how do you go about tracking, measuring and interpreting audience engagement? Well, since engagement is about visitors actually reading and absorbing your content, time spent per page is a major engagement metric to show you just how effectively you’ve grabbed your target market’s attention.
The same is true for your ad sales and pricing. The old model of CPM (cost per Mille) and CPC (cost per click) never told advertisers anything about whether the visitors were really interested in the ads once they clicked on. A newer engagement-based model, CPH (cost per hour) actually bases its ad pricing on whether the viewer stayed on the ad for at least five seconds, helping to ensure brand recall.
But duration alone isn’t enough. If your viewer clicks on your page and then goes away for an hour to eat dinner, you can easily get the wrong impression about that viewer’s engagement level. That’s why it’s also so critical to track what the viewer does in response to that page. Does he obey your call to action by clicking through to another page for more information? Does he opt to subscribe to your newsletter or download a white paper? Or does he go partway toward the desired final action only to drop off of the site? Analytics can reveal specific drop-off points that may indicate a problem with your content or targeting strategies.
Interactive content is another clever way to gauge audience engagement. For instance, you can make use of instant polling to stimulate responses that show you, not only how many people are seriously interacting with your site, but also how they feel about specific topics and issues. The more understanding of your audience you can collect in the form of real data, the more attractive your site will be to advertisers seeking that demographic — and the more easily you can steer that demographic automatically toward further site or ad content.
By all means, keep collecting those page views, but don’t rely on them as the be-all and end-all for your trade publication’s website metrics. Use compelling, focused content to genuinely engage your target audience, and then monitor that engagement as your true measure of success.