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Why Attention Time Matters for Digital Publishers

Up until recently, digital publishers relied heavily on metrics like pageviews and monthly uniques to measure reach, but the industry is shifting its focus beyond these moment-based metrics and zeroing in on time spent. Now buyers, sellers, and marketers are using “time spent” as a way to overcome viewability concerns.

Attention metrics are helping to shift the industry away from from clickbait, bots, and all the behaviours degrading the value of the web and in a move towards refocusing the development, measurement and monetization of quality content.

To turn things around, the industry is pushing the notion that the best indicator of content quality isn’t how many people see it, but how much time they spend with it. Enter “engaged time,” which publishers like The Financial Times and Say Media are now putting at the center of their value propositions to advertisers and users.

“Viewability doesn’t provide attention. The next step in the evolution of media buying is trading attention”
—Ashwin Sridhar

Other major digital publishers are also making the move to attention time metrics. The Economist recently announced their shift to attention-based ad sales — which closely followed in the footsteps of The Financial Times, which made the same move earlier in 2015. Other major publishers are using attention time-focused analytics to get a better grasp on the their content and audience engagement.

Not sure where to start when it comes to measuring engagement and attention? Here’s how attention time can be captured to arm publishers with actionable data to better inform decisions:

Avoiding the Pageview Trap

Publishers have traditionally leaned on analytics like pageviews, clicks, and unique visitors to measure the success of a piece of content. These “moment-based” metrics offer a brief snapshot of a user’s behaviour during a session on a publisher’s site. And because publishers are what they measure, the focus on these fleeting “moments” has driven down content quality in the unyielding quest for more traffic.

Harnessing a more impactful version of engagement and attention is top of mind as leading publishers look to move beyond moment-based, vanity metrics like clicks and pageviews. Just boosting traffic isn’t enough, because as we know, not all traffic converts. Which brings us to the Business Case for Engagement and attention time: Encouraging user interaction has a higher impact than traffic, and better converts passive content consumers into loyal users and paying subscribers, according to the MIT Sloan Management Review.

What is Attention Time?

“Viewability doesn’t provide attention. The next step in the evolution of media buying is trading attention,” Ashwin Sridhar, global head of digital products revenue at The Economist, told Digiday. This quote from Sridhar demonstrates the next step in the evolution of digital publishing metrics — and an industry shift to attention metrics. Attention time is a measure of the time an audience spends on-site, engaging with content (reading, sharing, liking, etc.) and interacting with the community built around the content.

With the average attention span now amounting to less than nine seconds (yes, even less than a goldfish), keeping the reader on the page is a major focus for all digital publishers. And many leading publishers are keeping their audience’s eyeballs on their content via strategic tactics to boost engagement, which increases a user’s time on-site and positively impacts a publisher’s CPM.

Attention time is a far more effective, in-depth method of measuring audience engagement. These metrics highlight broader trends and examine user sessions as a whole rather than focusing on a solitary moment (like when a user clicks a link or briefly visits a page before bouncing off the site altogether). Attention metrics help publishers dig deeper into what drives users to read an entire article and then move on to another. And with these insights, publishers can pour their time and efforts into creating high-quality content that draws users to a page and keeps them engaged.

But when we look at attention time from a practical perspective, how does it translate into something measurable?

Measuring Attention Time

Based on the definition digital publisher Upworthy offered in a recent blog post, attention time is an approach that truly measures audience satisfaction. Dubbed “attention minutes,” two of the primary metrics they use to track this include:

Tracking Attention Time

  1. Total attention time on-site: How long users spend engaging with content across their site.
  2. Total attention per piece: How long a user spent engaging with a singular piece of content.

Attention time encompasses all content experiences that keep your users engaged and on the page. This includes the time your audience spends engaging in the comments section of an article. Based on Viafoura’s own research, harnessing the value of commenting can go a long way when it comes to capturing audience attention time. Recent data shows that 68 per cent of audiences spend more than 15 per cent of their time reading the comments on a story — and such a statistic demonstrates the power of getting and keeping an audience’s attention.

Cutting-edge digital publishers are keeping users engaged and on their pages longer with compelling content, active online communities, and a variety of social tools. And Viafoura Audience Insights dashboard helps publishers track the conversations that matter, filtered by user, article or section — which helps stretched-thin publishers uncover actionable insights and inform content decision that can drive engagement.

Publishers can get a deeper understanding of the quality of traffic coming from their social networks, what content is generating high engagement, as well as a breakdown of attention time by network, article, or viewing device. Get a peek at the proportion of your audience that spends its time on a particular article across the article’s lifespan, comment velocity, the quality of the conversations and the number of shares per article in a single view.

A robust set of tools help publishers facilitate engagement and provide them with real-time analytics — the dashboard provides an at-a-glance view to help them engage, discover, and grow their audience. Some of the engagement tools used to measure such attention time and engagement metrics include:

Attention Time Tools

  • Real-time Commenting: Promote positive interactions amongst online community members to encourage more conversations and engagement in the comments section of a story. And Viafoura’s Smart automated algorithmic Moderation (SaaM) helps increase civility during the course of those conversations, and lowers moderation costs with 24/7 automated algorithms.
  • Article Sharing: Boost engagement with content through increased social sharing activity to capture deep insights on every interaction. Then editors can use that data to better inform content decisions.
  • Content Discovery: Encourage recirculation, i.e. helping users discover content that’s engaging and relevant to their interests. This contributes to an increase in overall attention time on-site as users read multiple pieces of content in a session.

These are a few examples of tools that can empower editors to discover the impact of audience engagement on the metrics that matter, such as attention time.

How You Implement Attention Time KPIs

Now that you have a better grasp of attention time, how can you integrate it? Here’s how you can evolve your current KPIs:

Evolving your KPIs

  1. Reset or identify your goals: Define engagement goals with your teams and track attention time as a KPI.
  2. Assess your analytics toolbox: Review your current measurements tools. Do they track real-time attention metrics and KPIs?
  3. Filter efforts through an ROE lens: Review your content, your tools, and channels with an eye toward how it contributes to return on engagement (ROE).
  4. Spread the word: Become an evangelist for attention metrics within your organization and in the industry as a whole. We’re building a new analytics ecosystem, and that doesn’t happen overnight.

Are you ready to shift your focus to engagement versus traffic?

Connect with an Audience Development Strategist today and see how over 600 media brands are engaging, discovering, and growing their audience.