Metrics can direct (and at times misdirect) crucial site optimizations. Better metrics lead to better investments in time, resources, and strategy.
This post is the first in Asymmetrica Labs series on prioritizing metrics. It presents examples of common problems encountered when relying on some of the most popular metrics.
The other posts in the series provide different perspectives on which metrics are most valuable. The second post helps make sense of metrics by grouping them into 4 broad categories. The third post presents the traditional view of metrics, with consumption metrics driving everything else. The fourth post considers the balanced view, with each metric contributing an equal measure to business success. The fifth and sixth posts look at the business view, and the ‘what pays the bills’ view, respectively.
Misleading metrics lead you astray
A recent article in Harvard Business Review (link at bottom) pointed out how Tesla proves classical business metrics are outdated. The gist of the article was about how old-fashioned metrics like market penetration and share of profit miss out on problem penetration – the extent to which current products solve existing and emerging problems. Tesla’s market penetration for electric cars is misleading when people also use Teslas as luxury items, exotic speed machines, and family camping.
Standard metrics often fail when products solve more than one problem in a rapidly changing landscape.
What the Tesla article didn’t go into was the similarities between business metrics and content metrics. When changing times lead to business metrics going wrong, content metrics can go wrong as well.
Famously, there was a time when carpenters used the width of their thumb as a unit of measurement. It’s what we derived the inch from. As for a foot, well, a foot used to be about the length of…
As times changed the width of the thumb or length of a foot just didn’t work as useful units of measurement, so those units were replaced by more accurate ones. Which is important because as second screen use increases (reaching past 90% for millennials), established metrics like dwell time and engagement rates are no longer always accurate indicators of how users are interacting with your information.
established metrics like dwell time and engagement rates are no longer always accurate indicators of how users are interacting with your information.
Attention has changed
People don’t sit down and carefully go through one lengthy content offering at a time anymore. Paying attention is no longer like a meal with 2 or 3 big helpings. Now it’s about taking a bit from every part of the all-you-can-eat internet buffet.
It’s evolved into something called the Attention Economy, and it has changed the content landscape.
Here’s a question for you: Ever had a webpage open for 10 minutes on your desktop, because you were busy replying to a notification from your smart-phone?
Here’s another: ever skimmed your email inbox on one screen while also paying attention to another screen?
Dwell time was a great indicator, when second screen use didn’t exist. Now that 87% of people use more than one device at a time, dwell time is as outdated as cases for your sony walkman.
Time spent on an item turns out to be a rather poor indicator if that time is also spent on 3 or 4 other items, all at the same time. It isn’t about time spent, it’s about quality of attention spent on an item.
It isn’t about time spent, it’s about quality of attention spent on an item.
This doesn’t even touch on the “I can’t believe its not there” phenomenon observed by Neilson Norman group, which pointed out eye-tracking studies and dwell time get confounded when readers repeatedly spend time looking for content they haven’t found. In these cases, the more confusing or inadequate the content, the higher the dwell time.
Behavior has changed
Social shares are another indicator that has had a rough time lately. There is an implied assumption that content that gets shared is shared because it’s valued. That it’s been read and considered OK enough to share with others. Unfortunately, stats show that 6 out of 10 people share without even reading the content.
Clickbait was a new phenomena that is being replaced by something even more new. Now we have moved on to sharebait, where content doesn’t even get clicked. It just gets shared.
Another example of an established metric that often does a pretty poor job of measuring how much of your message actually made an impact.
The Bifocal view
The Tesla article in Harvard Business Review pointed out the value of taking a ‘bifocal’ view of metrics. The bifocal view considers the way things were (essentially everything standard metrics measure), while also looking ahead at problems that are emerging and where things are going.
The bifocal view considers the way things were (essentially everything standard metrics measure), while also looking ahead at problems that are emerging and where things are going.
Focusing purely on the past is likely to miss opportunities coming up in the immediate future.
In the upcoming series of posts we will look at examples of metrics that may lead you astray in the emerging Attention Economy and suggest some indicators that yield more insight into what needs prioritizing in a rapidly changing world.
Thanks for reading!
Chris, Ken, and Edward