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Don't confuse clicks, shares with reading

There's an excellent article out on Time in which Chartbeat's CEO tells us how we're wrong about what we think we know, And he's right.

"We confuse what people have clicked on for what they’ve read. We mistake sharing for reading," says Tony Haile.

For too long, we've relied on clicks as the holy grail of web metrics.

How many times have you clicked on a story, then immediately hit the back button because it wasn't what you wanted? 50% of the time? 80%?

According to Haile, only 1 in 3 readers spend 15 seconds reading articles they land on. How valuable is a 2-second glance to your advertisers? Is any editor or reporter satisfied with a reader spending 5 seconds on their content?

That sad 15-second stat tells us that clicks alone don't have a lot of value -- especially in the long-term.

Now that's he's knocked clicks, Haile looks at social media "sharing." The reality isn't much better there: Sharing does not equal reading.

Use yourself as an example. Have you ever shared an article that you haven't read? I'll admit it; I have. Several times.

My reasons why aren't that different from other readers. Sometimes because I'm not interested, but I think someone else is. Sometimes because I think it's important but don't have time to read it (often I fool myself into thinking I'll read it later if I "share" it).

NewsWhip recently redesigned front pages of several newspapers to highlight what readers shared online vs. what was printed on the front page. The contrasts are fascinating, but flawed in that they assume people are reading everything they share.

Haile says Chartbeat research shows readers are twice as likely to return if you hold their attention for three minutes. And repeat visitors are gold -- especially if you are asking people to pay for your online content.

I encourage you to read Haile's entire article</a>. (He also offers excellent insight into reader behavior as it relates to the "digital fold.")

Unique visitors is another metric with dwindling value, especially for those websites pushing digital subscriptions. You want people who find your website valuable enough to visit several times -- and pay for the priviledge.

So if not clicks or shares, what should you measure?

Haile nails it when he says "Welcome to the Attention Web."

Value is in time spent on articles, time spent on digital assets, time spent on a website and time returning to a website.

"Use metrics to help you understand, not as a replacement for understanding," writes Steve Buttry, digital transformation editor at Digital First Media (Steve's written several posts on metrics in his blog, The Buttry Diary, you might find useful).

Metrics are a game. You can toss a lot of numbers around, but they don't mean anything unless they measure what's valuable to you.

Link-bait headlines and cheap tricks will get you superficial clicks with short-term results. High-quality content and well-designed websites will get you long-term results with valuable customers. Cheap and easy is really just that -- cheap and easy. Quality readers and quality content are worth investing in.

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