At this point, most digital publishers understand the importance of web analytics. While page views will always have a role here, audience engagement is taking the lead for publishers interested in measuring the success of their editorial content.
A decade ago, it was expected that publishers would look at page views and unique visitors as they evaluated the success of certain articles or sections on their websites. Most publishers were under the assumption that the more page views an article amassed, the better the article was. Visitors who enjoyed an article would have a reason to stick around the website, either clicking through other pages or returning the next day to see if more content had been posted about the same topic.
To a certain extent, publishers’ initial focus on page views makes sense. In addition to promoting loyalty, page views were also an indication of how much display advertising revenue the publication could expect to bring in.
In the years since news publications moved online, however, there’s been an industry-wide shift away from looking at page views as a key performance indicator.
For starters, page views alone are not enough to indicate whether a visitor enjoyed a particular article, or whether the reader even finished the article in its entirety. Page view metrics also do a poor job of measuring what kind of opinion readers have of the publication overall and whether they plan on returning in the future or becoming paying subscribers. These are just a few of the reasons why, as an industry, news publishers have transitioned away from page views and started looking more closely at audience engagement metrics.
Audience Engagement Metrics
Audience engagement has become increasingly important for publishers who want to boost their CPMs for display advertising revenue and convert first-time readers into paying subscribers.
Whereas page views measure the specific number of visitors clicking on a website, audience engagement metrics are much broader in scope. When most people talk about audience engagement, they’re talking about the extent to which visitors are interested in or involved in the content on a website. Shares, comments, time on the website, and offline impact can all represent audience engagement. Many publishers combine two or more of these metrics—for example, shares and comments—to determine audience engagement.
What publishers are discovering by tracking audience engagement is that audiences enjoy reading articles about certain topics more than others, and that certain kinds of stories do a better job of converting first-time readers into paying subscribers. Tracking audience engagement gives publishers a way to hone in on these topics.
For publishers who frequently post video, video completion rates are almost always a part of the equation here. Knowing the number of people who clicked on a webpage with a video (page views) is less useful than knowing the number of visitors who watched the video in its entirety. Knowing the engagement metrics for their video content, publishers should have a clearer understanding of how the length of content impacts completion rates. They can also compare completion rates for videos posted on different platforms and users on different devices.
Paywalls can make it harder to track the impact of page views, as well, since articles behind a paywall will always generate fewer page views, even if engagement with those articles is much higher. This is one of the reasons why many digital publishers stop using page view growth as a key performance indicator after putting up metered paywalls.
Analytics platforms today can get incredibly granular in the way they track audience engagement metrics, segmenting users by loyalty and demographics. A few questions that publishers can answer by looking at their audience engagement metrics are:
- Do readers coming from Facebook stay longer than readers coming from Twitter?
- How long does the average reader from Google stay on the site before leaving?
- Are readers living in certain areas staying on the website for longer?
Publishers aren’t the only ones interested in audience engagement metrics. Advertisers are interested in the information, as well.
Page views and impressions can only tell an advertiser so much. For a clearer picture of what they’re buying, advertisers will often ask for audience engagement metrics. Advertisers want to know that readers are engaging with the content on a publisher’s website and that the display ads they purchase will result in clicks and sales. In this way, tracking audience engagement metrics makes publications more attractive to potential advertisers, upping the CPM rates that publishers can charge.