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Which Metrics Matter for Measuring User Engagement?

Jan 18th, 2011


Amanda Hickman

Cross posted from PBS Idealab.

Gail Robinson’s recent post on traffic in a post-loyal era got me thinking about measures of web traffic and, more broadly, how to measure the impact of non-profit journalism.

I certainly don’t disagree with Gotham Gazette‘s decision to pass on providing Yahoo with free content. There’s no good reason that Yahoo can’t create a lively community without wholly reprinting Gotham Gazette’s excellent original reporting free of charge.

There are probably good reasons that it would complicate Gotham Gazette’s work to license stories to a commercial outlet like Yahoo Local, too: As a non-profit, the local policy publication regularly livens up stories by illustrating them with images licensed only for non-commercial use, or by independently licensing photos that aren’t available under a Creative Commons license at all. Sorting out the images that can be re-licensed to a commercial entity like Yahoo isn’t a trivial project, especially not for a small local publication.

It doesn’t look like Gotham Gazette is alone in declining Yahoo’s advances — Yahoo Local’s New York City page was recently dominated by pleas for piety from someone in Georgia:


And I definitely appreciate the impulse to own your traffic. One of the reasons DocumentCloud is thriving right now is that we’ve been very careful to ensure news organizations aren’t handing traffic off to us. They own their traffic. They can keep track of their readership numbers, evaluate efforts to increase site visits, and slap as many ads and extra navigation elements on embedded documents as they want. Even so, they want more: Users and prospective users alike regularly ask for better metrics on the documents they’re publishing.

Meaningful Metrics

Oakland Local, a project as commendable for its willingness to share insights as for its local coverage and community, has been quite open about the stats they look at as meaningful: Page views, unique visitors, average time on site and returning traffic. Returning visitors made up half their traffic when they spoke with Michele McLelland last spring. They also keep an eye on where their readers are coming from — they’re interested in how much of their audience is reading from Oakland.

When I was at Gotham Gazette, in addition to those basic web analytics, I kept a close watch on our comments — their vibrancy struck me as a good measure of participation.

So what do you measure?

So I’m curious: Do you look for measures of your impact beyond the kind of numbers you show to advertisers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Discuss Which Metrics Matter for Measuring User Engagement? on PBS’s IdeaLab.