Every year, digital media companies dedicate more resources to acquiring large amounts of data. In 2016, data will be used to define a metric that publishers and platforms can both stand behind and use to measure success much more meaningfully.
Many of us have tried to align editorial frameworks, social media packages, and growth strategies with metrics that indicate scale, e.g. pageviews, visits, and unique visitors. Others have focused on metrics that measure reader satisfaction, e.g. share rates, clickthrough rates, time spent, and scroll depth.
On a metric-by-metric basis, each indicates some form of success. The first category indicates breadth of audience (“traffic”), and the second category indicates depth (“engagement”).
This discrepancy is problematic. The separation of these concerns creates an unhealthy and unsustainable business model.
As we figure out the metric we care about, breadth and depth will converge and become one. This metric will be a zen master that instructs and aligns the initiatives of every team. A metric that feels organic and natural, that measures success as reach × trust, or breadth × depth.
Many questions lie ahead — which sub-metrics should be used (e.g. a combination of UVs, time on site, share rate) and how should they be weighted to generate an overall metric? Should qualitative data be integrated into the model? Should the metric apply to or alter itself for side door, dark social, organic, and search traffic? Is there a single metric that would work across different publishers, verticals, topics, and writing styles? How much of the metric can be used for representing video content?
The media industry, which I have found to be very collaborative when trying to solve challenges like this, should find a better path. One that will move us away from the grind of UVs toward a better industry standard that measures both quality, quantity, and how those two interact with each other. Whatever the metric ends up being, my hunch is that it’s not going to be very complex or algorithmic — it will be intuitive. All of the pieces of the puzzle are there, and 2016 will be the year we put them together.
Anthony Sessa is vice president of product at Mic.