Publishing Incentives: Four Metrics that Count

April 27, 2014

It’s no secret that many publishers use performance incentives for their writers and editors based on metrics also used to measure the success of their content strategy. If you use editorial incentives or are considering them, let's see which metrics are truly relevant and produce measurable results.

Before we start, though, let's acknowledge the resistance to editorial metrics as a measure of performance: writers historically have challenged the use of metrics as an accurate measure of content quality. Combine that resistance with an emerging  understanding of Key Performance Indicators, and you'll likely find that some commonly used analytics don’t actually reflect a successful content strategy.  

Perhaps click-throughs are the greatest offenders, as Tony Haile points out. Research shows that what people click on is not actually an indication of what they’ve read—and as a result, people are focusing more on what happens “between the clicks”.

Many publishers also look at pageviews, overall visitors and social shares. It’s not that these metrics are useless—together they can give you an overall feel for activity around your content and some insight into behaviors, but the question remains: are they really an indicator of the strength of your content?

Increasingly, the consensus is “no.”

Fortunately, we're finding a few that ARE tied to quality and support activity that indicates your readers are engaged and contribute to overall business success. Metrics that indicate relevancy and engagement are critical in defining what is being called the Attention Web, and they are readily available:

Length of Engagement

Sure, the fact that your content has been shared frequently would make you think that it’s being read, right?  Not so much. In fact, Haile shares data that would indicate otherwise (and yes, we read it). Engagement time is going to give you a more accurate representation of what is being read.

Unique Visitors and Size of Audience

Traffic is important, but not all traffic is created equal. Think about it, where are you more likely to get engagement and conversions: from the random one-time, fly by visitors or an interested reader participating as a member of a dedicated community of readers? Naturally, the larger and more loyal the audience, the more engagement you have. You can segment this data around the writer’s individual audience and topic areas, for even more valuable metrics.

Return Readership

Again, this is about traffic quality. Return readership builds engaged communities and also gives you more data for tailoring your content and making it relevant to your target audience. It's important to reward content that will bring someone back and increase the chances they'll register, subscribe or buy.

Amount of Content Produced

This one is a little sticky for some editors and writers—naturally, it raises hackles around quality vs. quantity.  But, we also know that traffic is, in part, driven by frequent content updates.  So, it’s important to find the sweet spot where quality is not compromised, but quantity is honored.

This is all very important when it comes to creating incentivizes to support your content strategy. Metrics are a key way to measure success, but it’s also important to apply best practices to the metrics:

  • Know your staff. Every writer and editor has different strengths and particular area of expertise. Work with those talents to identify the appropriate incentives and compensation packages.
  • Set clear expectations around your motives. People won’t invest in meeting metrics if they don’t understand the value in doing so.
  • Set the tone. You can tell people to meet the metrics to your heart’s content, but if you ask them, you’re more likely to see results. Meaning: a participatory, consistent environment is going breed self-motivation.