New Audience Metric

Robert Scoble has an interesting post on the need of measuring the engagement level of the users of a web site. He talks about the difference in user engagement between the Register and Digg:

Well, I’ve compared notes with several bloggers and journalists and when the Register links to us we get almost no traffic. But they claim to have millions of readers. So, if millions of people are hanging out there but no one is willing to click a link, that means their audience has low engagement. The Register is among the lowest that I can see.

Compare that to Digg. How many people hang out there every day? Maybe a million, but probably less. Yet if you get linked to from Digg you’ll see 30,000 to 60,000 people show up. And these people don’t just read. They get involved. I can tell when Digg links to me cause the comments for that post go up too.

One of the factors in determining the engagement level is whether the community is a read-only community (web 1.0 site) like the Register, USA Today or a participatory community (web 2.0 site) like Digg. I would expect the participatory communities like Digg to have a whole lot more engagement compared to a read-only community.

The existing web metrics of unique users and page views should be able to handle this difference though. In the Scoble example all you will need to look at are the number of page views per user over a week’s time and you will get a good idea of the engagement level of each of the user. The other existing metric that can be useful here is to see the distribution of the top pages. On Digg, my guess will be that their top pages graph is a lot steeper compared to a diffused graph at the Register, indicating the common interest of the people coming to Digg (mostly cutting edge web 2.0 tech folks) compared to the Register (more IT folks).

The situation becomes complex when you start looking deeper at the page views themselves as a good metric. In the article “Pageviews are obsolete“, Evan Williams points out the problems with pageviews:

But it’s this pageviews part that I think needs to be more seriously questioned. (This is not an argument that Blogger is as popular as MySpace—it’s not.) Pageview counts are as suseptible as hit counts to site design decisions that have nothing to do with actual usage. As Mike Davidson brilliantly analyzed in April, part of the reason MySpace drives such an amazing number of pageviews is because their site design is so terrible.

As Mike writes: “Here’s a sobering thought: If the operators of MySpace cleaned up the site and followed modern interface and web application principles tomorrow, here’s what the graph would look like:”

Mike assumes a certain amount of Ajax would be involved in this more-modern MySpace interface, which is part of the reason for the pageview drop. And, as the Kiko guys wrote in their eBay posting, their pageview numbers were misleading because the site was built with Ajax. (Note: It’s really easy to track Ajax actions in Google Analytics for your own edification.)

But Ajax is only part of the reason pageviews are obsolete. Another one is RSS. About half the readers of this blog do so via RSS. I can know how many subscribers I have to my feed, thanks to Feedburner. And I can know how many times my feed is downloaded, if I wanted to dig into my server logs. But I don’t get to count pageviews for every view in Google Reader or Bloglines or LiveJournal or anywhere else I’m syndicated.

Another reason: Widgets. The web is becoming increasingly widgetized—little bits of functionality from one site are displayed on many others. The purveyors of a widget can track how many times their javascript of flash file is loaded elsewhere—but what does that mean? If you get a widget loaded in a sidebar of a blog without anyone paying attention to it, that’s not worth anything. But if you’re YouTube, and someone’s watching a whole video and perhaps even an ad you’re getting paid for, that’s something else entirely. But is it a pageview?

One answer to the issue of measuring the customer is provided by folks at AttentionTrust. See my previous post of the subject. Still, though, the issue of how do you know who is coming to your site and what are they doing remains a critical unanswered question. What is needed is a global and user controlled way of share public identity of a user. Using the data for individual users we will have a better chance of handing this issue.

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7 thoughts on “New Audience Metric

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