The image that «crappy content» does well traffic wise is simply wrong, and how Facebook dominates traffic is changing user behaviour, the economics of content and more, said Tony Haile, former CEO of web analytics company Chartbeat, during a keynote in Oslo recently.
Haile, founding CEO of Chartbeat, recently gave a keynote on «What data tells us about the world of platforms» during the annual conference of The Norwegian Online Association (NONA) in Oslo.
Today’s news that Facebook’s rise as a news source hits publisher’s revenue (and the annual report on digital news from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism) only makes some of the things Haile talked about more relevant, but as there was plenty of food for thought in his talk I’ll just leave you with a lightly edited version of my notes from the talk.
«There are five things media companies do: create, host, curate, distribute, monetize. Of these five, Facebook now does four. So it is worth thinking about what that means as we go forward as an industry,» Haile said, and went on:
No one metric to rule them all
One of the things we find is that when talking to analysts they say there is no one metric to rule them all. They have to use a lot of different metrics and put it all together, but when they tell that to the commercial side of things it is as if they are talking different languages.
Often the people on the commercial side talk of a singular metric, and they end up using just one metric as a report card and that causes problems.
One such «report card» is page views, and that causes problems – among other things because most page views get extremely short exposure and have a massive bounce rate.
Viewability restores your faith in humanity
With the onset of viewability [an online advertising metric that aims to track only impressions that can actually be seen by users], this created a big change on the ad side because it matters what people do after they click, it matters if they read the content.
And when you look at that overview you get when you measure such things, it restores your faith in humanity. If you look beyond clicks and look at what gets reads but not clicks, it gives you a very different dataset.
It’s about the kind of data you choose: If you’re actually looking at the data of what people are reading and what they’re engaging with you’ll find that the image that «crappy content» does well traffic wise is simply wrong.
Page views on its own is a very problematic metric.
Zero correlation between shares and reads
So what do we have if not page views? We have social media. But there is zero correlation between the amount of shares and the amount of reads, between what people share and what they read.
Haile shows us an article from The Atlantic from March 2015 that did really well traffic wise , «What ISIS really wants», and tells us 60% of the traffic came from mobile (which proves people will read long stories on mobile). There was a distinct long tale effect, the article saw new spikes in traffic after e.g. the Paris terror.
«Twitter doesn’t drive meaningful traffic»
Desktop and mobile is not zero sum. Facebook dominates traffic. Mobile traffic often equals social, and social often equals Facebook – Facebook utterly dominates.
This is often a challenge for the news industry as we like Twitter, but our audience is on Facebook. According to Haile, Twitter doesn’t drive meaningful traffic. Facebook gives instant traffic boost, but Google stabilises traffic over time.
Google owns the lulls (long tail)
The total amount of attention is the closest metric we come for measuring quality.
«Of these five things we do, distribution is now very much in the hands of Facebook – and it’s actually starting to change user behaviour on sites,» said Haile.
People come from social apps and trust the apps more than they trust the stream, and that’s challenging.
Facebook changes the economics of content
It causes trouble for how we think about the economics of content because content [in the media industry] has always been bundled.
The rational for creating content which is uneconomic on its own, but is so important for media democracy, starts to become challenging in this new landscape.
New companies with a very different cost base are starting to pop up, they don’t have their own sites – their strategy is just to be out there on the platforms.
We have to understand the power of the platforms. It may not be worthwhile to invest all that money in this shiny new CMS [Content Management System] anymore.
Your brand needs to be within the content itself
You have to think about the quantifiable value of your brand. The brand needs to be within the content itself, there is no use talking about a new logo or redesign when content can travel freely separate from your site.
The single most important thing you can to do is to nurture as many different platforms as possible as we’re increasingly moving to a platform world.
There is now a sneaking sympathy for those legacy media who have printing presses. If these trends continue, a lot of those things we have invested so heavily in in the media industry won’t have any value
The challenge for classic media companies is how to compete with these start-ups. Classic media companies’ infrastructure is increasingly becoming irrelevant. There are going to be new sorts of companies coming through
As a closing note, Haile said he is starting a new company this week.
«I think journalism is important for democracy but journalism isn’t being paid, and we have to solve that. I wonder if there is a broad-based solution for a subscription-based service where you’re not constantly distracted from the good content you want to read.»