Rich Gordon talks about measuring digital success

I attended “The New Newsroom” conference May 15 in Chicago and walked away with some valuable insights from all of the presentations that I saw before catching the bus back to Michigan later in the evening. Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at Medill School at Northwestern University in Chicago, had one of the more interesting talks, focusing on Google Analytics.

Below are my notes from his presentation and posted above is video from his talk. Combined the two and it will be like you were there.

What Gets Measured Gets Done: Web and Social Analytics for Publishers
Presenter: Rich Gordon @richgor of Mendill at Northwestern University
Most measurable medium ever. Data being tracked on all devices, but also awash in data. What should we be keeping track of? Understanding analytics.

Key performance indicators to track: Links and content referrals, SEO and social media.

How well are you doing in networked audience development practices, and metrics, for locally focused websites. People consuming content presented to them on social media channels. If you understand how networks work you may be more successful in building an audience on the web and mobile.

Every biz on web should have set Key Point of Indicators (KPI) that are tracked consistently and regularly. These KPIs should be shared throughout the organization. Share data in the organization. And factor it into performances and personnel decisions. KPIs should align to business goal, so they will be different for every publisher and property.

Nielsen Net/Ratings counts 4,600 news and information websites. Of those, top 300, or 7 percent of total, get 80 percent of the traffic. Understanding networked audiences: research shows in any category of web content/websites, this pattern will exist. A small portion get a significantly disproportionate amount of the traffic. Network effects from links, search, social media cause a leader to become a bigger leader overtime because they build. “The rich get richer,” so to speak. Networks tend to produce “power law distributions” or our time, of attention. The 80/20 rule: A small fraction of the total number of nodes in the network. So, the more active on social media, the bigger your network will grow!

Basic metrics: size/scale (raw number of people/users/browsers coming to our site; loyalty/frequency (how often coming back); and audience engagement (once they do come, how much time are they spending there). Unique visitors/page views of size/scale; average visit duration speaks to engagement; site views speaks to loyalty.

Understanding online metrics and audiences, consider how technology works: every single server that delivers a page will drop a cookie that can be read. Cookies help us measure.

Unique visitors: Total number of unique people visiting a website at least once in a time period, usually once a month. People visiting the site more than one time in the reporting period are counted only once. Unique visitors really measuring computers or cookies, not people. Someone using 3 computers will equal 3 unique visitors, although really 1.

Visit session: If there is a gap of 30 minutes, then counts as a new session or visit.

Page views: Total number of times a web page is requested by a user. Counted only when page fully loads in browser window.

Bounce rates: Portion of visits that are exactly one page view. Not staying on site. Typically 60 percent.

Size/scale: visits

Loyalty/frequency: percentage of new visits

Audience engagement: pages/visits

Stay away from unique visitors. Doesn’t really mean anything, Rich Gordon says, even though common in measuring audience. Page views can be easily manipulated. It can reward site practices that users hate, so steer away from page views for measurable data. Bounce rate is more appropriate for direct marketing campaigns (if want to get them to a landing page and then track number), but strive for improvement over time. If you can get someone to your page for first time, need to figure out what else can serve them up to keep them on the site. You know they are coming for something they are interested in for first time, but key is figuring out how to keep them there.

Reason you have more readers online than in print because we have a strained distribution of users. Many come to the site once a month for something specific, or twice for something specific. It’s the 8 percent that comes frequently and regularly who you want to measure and target. Fans make up most of your page views but only 4.3 percent, and flybys or one time visitors 70 percent. In the end 90,000 copies sold a day, 200K daily print readership, 450K unique only equals 20,000 fans (but those people matter more than flybys).

What makes online platform different than print. Time spent on website lower than print. Average one minute online vs. 20 minutes reading print. Time spent too low on local news websites. But there is a problem with how time spent.

Google Analytics the standard for measuring time spent on web. But time spent on last page isn’t measured. It counts as 0 time spent if goes no where else on site. That’s why pages per visit better to track than duration. With GA: time spent from first page to last click on site (but not last page).

Where is our traffic coming from? Good to know so we know where to put our attention. Where does site traffic come from: search, links, social media. 35 to 50 percent from search, links and social media; local traditional media, 50 percent to 65 percent; local online-only site: 65 to 90 percent. Search is search engine; referral is links from other sites; direct is type url or bookmark; or campaigns, you get GA code to build traffic, such as an email newsletter.

Link sharing efforts will help you increase referrals. Look at info and decide which traffic matters most, usually direct traffic.

Branded visits: People typing in url or bookmark, plus those typing name into search. Direct, plus search for (site name): A significant share of search driven visits are really direct visits in disguise. Add these to direct, deduct from search.

Social media: To what extent is social media referring traffic to your site? Look at percentage of referral visits and all visits by Facebook, Twitter and other social sources. Be smart about your social media strategy and you can increase referrals.

Which referrals are most valuable and give you the most engaged visitors. On average, 1.5 visits from search or direct, less by referral because coming for specific story. But if you are executing social media well and engaging your audience they will stay longer. Engage with them rather than auto headline feeds and give them other material to click on.

Engagements: visits staring on home page. Visitors arriving on home page should view more pages and not bounce. People who come through home page stay longer as they look for other things on the site. May want to track this on a regular basis to see if you have an appealing home page.

Also look at this metric on GA: Engagement level from mobile users vs. computer users. Pages per visit for computer users now higher than mobile. But we’re started to see tablet users, not mobile/phone, starting to look like computer users, spending more time on site. What does your site look like on a mobile device. Make it look good on a small screen and large screen and you’ll see the number of mobile go up and the gap between mobile and computer will get smaller.

Social media: Facebook insights
“Total reach” is “people who have seen any content associated with your page; “People talking about this” is people who have created a “story” (like, comment, share, answer question, respond to an event.) “Engaged users” actually click on your link; “Virality” is the people talking about it divided by total reach, or number of people who have seen it. If you can detect viral trends, then exploit it. Look at “likes” on Facebook (should grow over time and be tracked); Over 28 days: track engaged users, people talking about this and virality. Figure out what’s a good number of likes. Ask people to like your page and retweet your content, if you think it’s worth retweeting. Data shows people will respond, but don’t overuse the request.

Measure: followers, growth in followers, followers per 1,000 visits, retweets

Twitter
Follower: Following ratio. High means many people are listening to you and you are using Twitter mostly for distribution; low is you’re interesting to many people and using twitter to monitor your community. You want to be following as many as following you or you are just using it to push links, as you don’t care to follow people back and engage them in conversations.

Social media influence scorers: Klout, TweetLevel, PeerIndex and others. Each seeks to measure your influence on social media channels. Measures your activity and what happens after you tweet. Are people retweeing, favoriting, etc.?

Rich Gordon asking for access to analytics and compare it across industry to share outcomes and look at best practices to share. He thinks he can protect confidentiality, wouldn’t share data by name. It could also help outperforming sites demonstrate value for advertisers. Interesting to have metrics to benchmark yourself against others.

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