Come On Nick, You Can Do Better Than That

by Mathew on March 28, 2010 · 12 comments

Choire Sicha, former editor of Gawker and now co-founder of The Awl, points out that the Gawker offices have a large screen mounted on the wall that shows the top most-read stories on the site in terms of unique visitors, allegedly to motivate writers at the blog network (although it’s interesting to note that this screen is described as being in the reception area rather than where the writers can see it). Gawker also posts its top-read stories in terms of both pageviews and unique visitors, which is an interesting page to watch.

That said, however, pageviews and even unique visitors are only a couple of the factors that media entities need to be concerned about — as I tried to argue in this post (check the bottom for recent updates), based on the Twitter debate between Reuters writer Felix Salmon and Business Insider founder Henry Blodget — and neither one of them is arguably the most important. Yes, they are the metrics with the largest numbers, and so they impress some advertisers and possibly some competitors. But they are also subject to inflation by girls kissing and slideshows, as Felix noted in the tweet that started his battle with Blodget.

Denton says he agrees that pageviews and uniques aren’t the best measures, and asks for others that are better. Okay, Nick — what about time spent with a story? Why not put that up on a big-screen TV on the wall? What about the number of repeat visitors that a writer gets over a month? Or what about the number of comments on a story, multiplied by the number of times a writer actually responds? Gawker is one of the most forward-thinking sites on the Web when it comes to comments and how they are managed, and from what I have seen their writers — particularly Denton himself — are good about responding. That’s a far better metric of value in my books.

Soon, advertisers will realize that chasing after raw pageviews and
big unique visitor numbers is a mug’s game, and one that Demand Media
and Associated Content and similar content factories will win every
time
— and arguably many advertisers are already realizing this,
which is why CPMs generally suck. So what starts to matter more?
Engagement. Admittedly, it’s difficult to measure (let alone define),
but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

Update: In a tweet to me, Nick says that comments are “a horribly misleading measure, e.g. commenter delight at a blog squabble is inversely related to wider appeal.”

Mahendra Palsule also has a thoughtful post about the move from number-based metrics such as pageviews and CPMs to relevance-based measurement and tools.

  • http://twitter.com/lorakolodny Lora Kolodny

    Good ideas. Some other ones on my mind: number of times a story or post is shared, tweeted, liked or thumbed-up in social media; mentioned on-air in video and broadcast media; aggregated, at least on a set of desirable sites that matter to the audience your publication is trying to win or reach; and if you want to look at an individual writer's performance, what percent of their stories break news, or add important dimensions of analysis with originally reported content, vs. what percent are just rehashed releases?

  • http://twitter.com/mathewi Mathew Ingram

    Those are some great suggestions, Lora — thanks for the comment.

  • Ben Metcalfe

    I don't disagree with your perspective on time on page vs page views… but I think the reason Denton is showing the top stories in terms of page hits is that Gawker employee remuneration is based on the amount of hits your posts receive.

    I don't think this is anything more than a glorified incentive scheme to make sure all of his minions are further incentivized to push harder for more traffic. Don't forget that in addition to writing a good post, each has the ability to push it further on social media, etc to get their posts up there.

  • stephenhowardsarin

    As long as advertising is sold on a cost-per-impression basis, the page view will remain the core metric. Nothing else bears any relation to the economic value of the Web — except unique users, which is the starting point for selecting what sites to advertise on. So, there we are: pages and users.

    Some of those alternate metrics (like “repeat visitors per writer,” which would be slick) could add some dimension to the economic value of a writer, but that would be even *more* crass to post on the wall at work, no?

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Yes, I understand that, Ben — and I'm not even saying that pageviews aren''t worth looking at. I just don't think that's the only thing, or even the most important thing, whether you're looking at compensating writers or attracting advertisers. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I realize that's the world we are in right now, Stephen — I just think measuring everything by the pageview or the visit is a pretty shallow way to do it, whether you are a proprietor or an advertiser. Obviously, having really high-quality readers who spend a lot of time with your stories doesn't help if you only have five of them (hi Mom!) and no one wants to advertise with you. But I think focusing just on pageviews and visits distorts the question of “value” for a lot of Web content, and encourages a race to the bottom.

  • smkinoshita

    I do a lot of data analysis with web traffic, including clicks, views, time spent on site, top content, where visitors came from and where they go. And I can tell you for fact that just going by page views and unique visitors is like saying you read a murder-mystery by looking at the “Who Dun It” page ONLY.

    Let me tell you a little story about comments, too. There is a comic book writer/illustrator named Brock Heasley. And there is a DC-owned comic site called Zuda. Zuda runs a contest where several contenders show 8 pages of a comic book, with the winner going on to do the comic full-time (and paid). The decision is run by popular opinion — a sum of reviews, comments, visits and ratings.

    Brock won, although it was close. But Brock has a history of responding to every comment he gets on his first comic, Super Fogeys. By the time Zuda came 'round, he had a loyal community behind him. When his comic, Monsterplex (he's the writer) was losing, he put out a call for help from his community.

    Brock is a genuinely nice guy. The community answered. Monsterplex won, and Brock's dream came true.

    Comments alone? So-so. Comments as a part of engagement? GOLD.

    Totally behind you, Mr. Ingram.

  • http://twitter.com/mathewi Mathew Ingram

    Thanks, SM :-) Great anecdote, by the way.

  • Ben Metcalfe

    Absolutely. When it comes to CPM orientated advertising, blog owners should be trying to increase the “C” by attracting better quality visitors… not increase the number of “M”s per page as that breads tabloid and shock editorial.

    I think the issue is that if you work for someone like Denton, and to his credit he's a smart guy, you are signing up to work at an outlet that is really only a few orders up the food chain from Demand Media where quantity will always rule over quality.

    It's also why I don't read Gawker stuff much.

  • http://www.schieldenver.com/ Book Publishers

    Great post, and so true. Lora's got some great ideas – particularly number of times a story is posted or shared. That would work great on gawker and similar media.

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    I agree with Lora. I think that if you looked at most blog sites or web sites, there are probably very few which actually “add” anything of value to what we are actually looking at or buying, etc.

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