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Strategic insights
Valuing Your Traffic Beyond Views and Shares

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Written by on March 20, 2014

These days everyone is asking the same questions. How do we quantify the value of our traffic, and how do we use that valuation to help us do things better?

Of course, these questions are nothing new. Brands and media companies have been asking these questions for years, but something has changed. We now have the power of data and we are starting some very interesting experiments trying to quantify stories in different ways.

One example is Newswhip which earlier this month decided to redesign the front page of popular newspapers based on what people shared. While there were minor differences for tabloids, there were huge differences for traditional newspapers.

Here is the Wall Street Journal in its original form, and in its 'people' form:

Here is how the Guardian would look:

And here we see the Independent:

We clearly see the disconnect between what the newspapers define as news and what people share. The stories that the newspapers focus on are the big international stories, which are all stories that we cannot relate to or do anything about as readers.

In other words. People prefer much less about Ukraine, a lot more about topics that are closer to us as individuals.

This example focused on newspapers, but you could do the same exercise for brands, and you will likely find a similar disconnect between what brands want to focus on, and what people actually need.

So, you have to ask the question, "Is this a good way to value traffic?"

Well... no. Newswhip's story is very interesting, but it's making the same mistake as most other similar studies. They think that traffic can be valued by a single metric, whether that is shares, engagement, time on site, or views.

Combined, these might be able to tell you something, but alone they don't give you any real answers. First of all, sharing only accounts for a very small fraction of your real readers, and people have a tendency to share things that are not necessarily important to them.

Just look at the most shared articles at Buzzfeed, or what posts people share the most on your brand page. It's rarely the type of content that's based on value.

Tony Haile, the CEO of Chartbeat wrote an extremely good article about this over at Time Magazine, which I highly recommend you read it. Among other things, he found that:

  • Most people don't read what they click on.
  • If you compare high traffic with engagement, those two rarely correlate with each other.
  • Sharing and engagement don't follow each other.

We looked at 10,000 socially-shared articles and found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.

I have been saying the same thing for quite a long time now. For instance, when it comes to social engagement, always remember that it's your listeners who are responsible for most of your sales. When it comes to articles, think about 'multi' and 'readers', not pageviews and time on site.

This also points to the most important point of all. We have a tendency to turn to simple solutions and focus on very specific metrics. But what we are learning in this world of multi is that people are highly complex beings and no single measurement can give you any answers.

There are no shortcuts or simple solutions to quantifying the value of your traffic, instead, the power is in the mix. And this is what we are going to look at in this article.

Multi, sources and behavior

The key to understanding the value of your traffic is to look at three key elements.

The first one is 'multi' where true value doesn't come from single interactions. We need multiple interactions to happen repeatedly for it to generate any lasting value. Sure, you can build up a ton of traffic from single visits, but you won't have a business unless they start to act in a 'multi' way.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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