News organisation web stats: Break out bounce

Frédéric Filloux looks at the metered paid content systems that the FT an the New York Times have in place in his most recent post. I have yet to be sold on how the New York Times is trying to segment their readership based on platform, but I think they are doing the right thing in terms of trying to get their most loyal readers to help support their journalism. I also like how they are trying to reward their most loyal readers with extras, such as their behind the scenes report on how they covered the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

Frédéric touches on the issue of loyalty in his post.

One the dirtiest little secrets of the online media business is the actual number of truly loyal readers — as opposed to fly-bys. No one really wants to know (let alone let anyone else know). Using a broad brush, about half of the audience is composed of casual users dropping by less than 3 times a month, or sent by search engines; 25% come more than 10 times a month.

Spot on, and I think there is a lot of evidence to support his assertion that this has contributed to an erosion in advertising prices. Advertisers know that not all unique users are created equal. If a user views a single page during a visit, or even worse, is on a site less than 5 seconds, they might be counted as a unique user or visitor, but they are next to meaningless in terms of engagement with content and completely meaningless to an advertiser.

It’s quite clear that raw audience numbers do not a sustainable digital content business make. If that were the case, digital would be contributing significantly more to the bottom line than the 15% average that US newspapers are seeing. If this was the case, The Daily Mail would be making a mint off of its newly found digital success. The Mail has not only rushed ahead of its online competitors in the UK, but in April, it became the second most popular English-language ‘newspaper’ site in the world. (Quotes around newspaper because I’m not sure how the Huffington Post is considered a newspaper site, and if you were to include other news sites such as the BBC not to mention Yahoo News, that league table would look a lot different.) However, the Mail is squeezing paltry sums out of that audience, about 2p per visitor across Mail Online and (Rob Andrews at paidContent also points out in the same piece that DMGT makes most of its digital income, some £44m, from a separate digital division that operates travel, jobs and motoring ad services.)

The move from monthly uniques to average daily uniques has eliminated some double-counting from the stats, but it still doesn’t break out these fly-by visitors. The industry has to move to more honest and realistic metrics. In the UK, newspapers no longer report bulk print sales. I’d argue that it’s time to at the very least break out ‘bounce’, single-page, less than 5 second visitors (or however the industry wants to transparently measure it). If the industry really wanted to come clean, they’d just leave bounce out of the stats entirely. It’s meaningless traffic, the internet version of channel surfers. Loyalty is the new coin of the digital realm, and I’d wager that if we focus on that, it might even bring in a bit more coin.

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