The difficulties of reader retention

It is relatively easy to drive bursts of traffic to a website, but perhaps the most frustrating thing for website owners is to see a huge spike, only for the numbers to return to what they were before within only a day or two. Though there are a number of tools to measure traffic and its sources, it can be incredibly difficult to gauge how “sticky” your site is.

Nieman’s Journalism Lab has a piece up today on some of the science and tools that could be factored into measuring reader engagement:

Even on the infinitely measurable web, gauging engagement remains a tricky and largely elusive task. One popular measure is the bounce rate, or percentage of visitors who leave after seeing one page. The Huffington Post, despite its surging popularity, has said the site’s bounce rate is too high, which hurts the value of its advertising. Another metric is return readership. Talking Points Memo boasts that 60 percent of readers, in a TPM survey, said they visit the site more than once a day.

But those are imperfect measures, and tracking engagement within a website is even more difficult. This month, I’ve been playing with new software, already in use on some major news sites, that offers a partial solution by tracking an unusual metric: how many times users copy text and images from each page — and what they’re copying.

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How To Get Brand Advertisers To Spend More On The Web

Gian M. Fulgoni is Executive Chairman and Co-founder of comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) Inc. Previously, he was President and CEO of Information Resources, Inc.

It’s high time our industry provide large branding advertisers with metrics that prove that the web offers just as much—if not more—ROI as traditional media. That’s the best way to convince them that it’s OK to shift large portions of their ad spending to the internet.

Consider the following. In a recent blog post, Young-Bean Song from The Atlas Institute (part of Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Advertising) pointed out that if we separate advertising into its two main forms—direct response and branding—and look at the percentage of all measured media that online represents, we see that online direct-response advertising dollars have flowed strongly onto the internet, capturing 30% of all measured direct-response ad dollars) while branding is performing poorly, with only 5% of measured media branding dollars going on online.

Why has the internet failed to attract branding dollars? I lay responsibility squarely at the door of the “click.” Used since the early days of online advertising as an indicator of the effectiveness of an ad, the click originated simply because it could be measured. But not everything that can be measured matters.

In fact, the use of clicks on display ads as a meaningful metric sets the internet up for failure as a branding medium. Doubleclick reports that click rates on display ads today have fallen to approximately 0.1%, an unfortunate reality that has created serious doubts about the value of online advertising in the minds of advertisers that have experimented with the internet as a branding medium. It’s now clear that a publisher would have to be insane to continue using click metrics to try to persuade branding advertisers to turn to the internet.

If the industry can move beyond the click, the future of online branding advertising is bright. By using appropriate metrics, the ability of online display advertising—whether in the form of static display ads, rich media or video—to build brands can be shown to rival or even exceed the effectiveness of traditional media. In a white paper “Whither the Click” (published in the June issue of the Journal of Advertising Research), we summarized the hundreds of studies we’ve conducted using the comScore panel and comparing the behavior of panelists exposed to brand display ads with the behavior of those who did not see the ads. Even in the face of negligible click rates, time and again we observed statistically significant lifts among the ad-exposed consumers in the number of visits to the advertised brand’s web site, the number of trademark search queries, and the sales of the advertised brand, both online and offline.

While these metrics are vital for understanding the true effectiveness of online advertising, reach and frequency (R/F) metrics are also important tools for media planning and analysis. Traditional brand advertisers have been using such metrics for decades, and these metrics should also be central to online media planning and analysis. Let me be clear. I’m not arguing that R/F metrics can indicate whether a particular media plan has worked—that can only be determined by measuring the success of the plan in building brand sales, taking into account the particular creative that was used. But R/F considerations – how many people were reached with ads and how many times—are vital when deciding how to structure a plan and critical when one is trying to understand, based on the sales results, why a plan worked or didn’t.

One problem is that measuring an ad campaign’s reach and frequency on the Internet is not as simple as it is for traditional media because there are so many different locations from where an ad can be delivered on an individual web site. For that reason, R/F needs to be measured at the ad-placement level, not at the site level. To that end, this week comScore today announced an offering with Microsoft Advertising to provide R/F planning and analysis tools at the ad-placement level based on Atlas ad server data and comScore panel data. We believe this is a much more precise approach because it shows the reach of the ad campaign that can actually be achieved, the true potential frequency, and the specific demos of that audience. Campaigns planned at a total site level can overstate reach, understate frequency and may not deliver the desired demographic.

Perhaps Ted McConnell, Director of Digital Marketing Innovation at Procter & Gamble, put it best at a recent conference when he said: “Call me old-fashioned, but P&G thinks it’s rather important to know what we say, to how many people and how often.”

When traditional media thinks about branding advertising, it focuses on creative, reach and frequency. These are time-tested factors. It’s time for online display advertising to go back to the future.

Bartman Movie: ESPN To Run Documentary On Cubs Fall Guy Steve Bartman (VIDEO)

Life could get even harder for a man who just wants to fade away.

Steve Bartman, the overzealous Cubs fan whose deflection of a foul ball in the 2003 National League Championship Series made him the most prominent in a long line of North Side scapegoats, is the focus of an upcoming ESPN documentary.

As part of its 30th anniversary celebration, ESPN is commissioning 30 one-hour films from 30 filmmakers on various sports-related topics from 1979-2009.

For his contribution, acclaimed documentary producer Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) will attempt to answer the question: Can Bartman ever forgive Chicago?

Here's just one reason why that's no given:

Citi Flies “Big Red Flag” Over Akamai

Akamai’s disappointing second-quarter results prompted Citi Investment Research analyst Mark Mahaney to award the company a “Big Red Flag” this morning. Mahaney noted that it’s the first time in at least five years that the content delivery network missed the low end of its revenue guidance. He’s concerned about aggressive pricing, 5 percent-plus customer churn — including at least one big loss during the quarter — and increased competition from other CDNs, especially for media and entertainment customers.

Akamai said after Wednesday’s closing bell that its revenue in the most recent 3-month period rose 5.5 percent, to $204.6 million, and adjusted per-share earnings came in at 40 cents vs. 41 cents in the same quarter last year. Analysts, on average, had expected $211 million in revenue and a per-share adjusted profit of 41 cents. At last check, shares of Akamai had fallen as much as $4.54, or 22 percent, to change hands for $15.86.

Mahaney said that Akamai still has a few things going for it, among them $925 million in cash and securities to buy back stock, the leading market share among CDNs, and the rise of HD video. But he called the company’s latest quarterly results “very sobering.”

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Rachel Maddow On Tonight Show: Obama Complimented My Pants! (VIDEO)

Rachel Maddow appeared on the "Tonight Show" Wednesday night, where she revealed that Barack Obama is a fan of her fashion sense.

During their interview last fall, Obama "broke the ice by complimenting my pants," Maddow told Conan. "They're my Obama pants!"

Maddow also poked fun at Obama's beer date with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James Crowley — "I don't know whether it's going to be a longneck or a can," the cocktail aficionado told Conan — and explained why she recently copied Sarah Palin by wearing rubber waders on the air.

"It actually was an experiment to see if it's possible, if people can really tell what you're saying and pay attention to what you're saying while you're wearing rubber pants that come up to your armpits," she said, referencing Palin's slate of interviews in her fishing gear. "It's very distracting!"

Maddow, who recently went on a fishing vacation of her own, told Conan that while she isn't very good at fishing she enjoys it because the lures have "really dirty names."

"When I caught a really big fish on vacation, I was fishing two lures that day: one of them was called The Hoochie, one of them was called Mr. Wiggles," she said.


Maddow is broadcasting from the west coast this week and will appear on "Bill Maher" Friday.

Two Takes on the U.S.-Pakistan Marriage

What’s the current status of the United States’s tortured, convoluted, unhappy marriage with Pakistan? If you’re someone who still prefers to get your news in print, your answer to that question may depend on which coast you live on. From the eastern seaboard, the lead story of the July 22 New York Times, which we’ve previously <a...

Journalists Are News Companies’ Most Valuable Asset

Journalists are news companies’ most valuable assets.

That’s what Mike Arrington asserts, and I think he’s right (disregard the “failing old media” rhetoric):

And earlier today I got a glimpse at what AOL is up to – they are hiring all the journalists being fired and laid off by the newspapers and magazines. And they now have a news room 1,500 journalists and editors strong. Amazingly, failing old media is throwing away their most valuable assets. And AOL is eagerly picking those assets up for a song. Before anyone knows it, AOL may be the most powerful news outlet in the world.

Given that NYT has gone to great lengths to avoid newsroom layoffs, I suspect they know full well how valuable their journalists are.

Mike Arrington is TechCrunch’s most valuable asset, for his personal brand and for the quality of the post he writes.

As Arrington points out, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has also realized how valuable journalists are, and is aligning AOL’s new strategy with cornering the market for journalist talent.

But is Arrington right that media companies are blithely throwing away their most valuable asset? Why did newspapers make so many newsroom cuts on their path back to profitability? Is it because they don’t recognize the value of their journalists?

I think it’s because they are still wrestling with the declining value of their other major asset: industrial printing and distribution capacity, i.e. printing presses and delivery trucks and all their industrial staff. While some newspapers have made significant cuts to their industrial operation by not delivering or publishing everyday (and a few have taken the extreme step of ending their industrial operation entirely), most have protected this asset because it is not really variable — it’s mostly all or nothing.

But to say that the value of industrial printing and distribution capacity is declining is not to say it has no value — it of course still generates most of newspaper company revenues. But the decline, while exacerbated to a large degree by the recession, is still secular long-term. (And newspaper companies are surely using the breathing room they achieved through cost reduction-driven profitability to figure out their long-term strategies — and they are focused on digital.)

AOL, in contrast, has no industrial assets, so has the latitude to invest in journalists. They also have another huge asset that newspapers enjoyed in their geographic distribution areas that they entirely lack on the web: SCALE

A notable illustration of the shifting value of news company assets that sits between AOL and most newspaper companies is Politico.

Politico rose to prominence by showcasing its high profile journalists on its website.

Politico Blogs

Politico Ben Smith

Unlike most news sites, Politico has real profile pages for its journalists and showcases their bylines on every story (even the lead homepage story):

Politico headline byline

This doesn’t mean, however, that Politico derives no value from industrial printing and distribution. In fact, half of their $15 million in annual revenue comes from a print edition published three days a week when congress is in session, and once week otherwise (via Vanity Fair).

But Politico doesn’t own any printing presses or delivery trucks, i.e. no industrial assets. And the print publication is largely the product of content produced first for the web — and it is very much a “nichepaper,” i.e. it targets the highly valuable audience of Capitol Hill staffers and members of Congress.

The results is that Politico is able to invest in a talented newsroom staff of 100, paying nearly as much as The Washington Post. And Politico is profitable.

But does focusing on journalists as news companies’ most valuable asset mean that news companies should be exclusively in the content production business? That’s a significant shift from the industrial printing and distribution business.

In the digital media world, companies like Google and Apple have taken over, as Columbia J School Dean and former managing editor Bill Grueskin put it, the “profitable front end of the distribution chain,” leaving news companies with the much less profitable back end of the value chain (i.e. content creation).

But what if journalists could also be the key to news companies getting back into the distribution business, in digital media?

The greatest asset of Google, the most successful content distribution business on the web, is its ability to harness the judgment of every person who creates a hyperlink on the web, and to know which links from which sites represent more trusted judgment.

News companies still employ in their newsrooms arguably the greatest collective source of news judgment.

So how can news companies leverage the asset of their journalists’ news judgment?

Hint #1: Collaboration

Hint #2: Scale

News companies are notably trying to figure out how to get into the business of charging for content on the web. As Apple’s iTunes demonstrated, the key to charging for content is in effective and highly convenient packaging.

Could journalists be the key to not only creating the content but also packaging it?

Think about that for a while. More in another post.