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Online Audience Measurement: An Introduction

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Online audience measurement is fundamental to managing and growing a Web business.

Knowing your audience will improve your revenue and readership in short order.

Anyone who has worked in Web site publishing struggles with accurately measuring an audience.

It is more difficult than counting newspaper subscribers, TV viewers and other consumers of media because a single computer may have one or more users who often can’t be tracked separately.

A newspaper has the address of a subscriber and knows how many single copies are sold at a newsstand. That’s not the case with online.

3 Critical Audience Measurements

First the basics of online audience measurement, also known as analytics: The three most important measures are unique visitors, visits and page views.

A unique visitor is the unique IP address of a computer whose user is visiting your site. Sometimes it is enhanced with cookies that traffic behavior over multiple Web site visits.

A visit is the arrival of that unique visitor one or more times during a month or some other period of time.

A page view is what happens when a visitor sees a fully loaded page on a site, such as the home page or a page found via a search engine link.

These terms have been common in the online industry for many years. Recently, Google and others have changed the term unique visitors to users and visits to sessions.

Three Metrics in Action

In the course of a month, let’s say a unique visitor comes to a site, views the home page and leaves.

It would be measured as one unique visitor, visiting one time and viewing one page.

Now let’s say that unique visitor comes back a second time during the same month, views only the home page and leaves again.

The total measure for the month is one unique visitor, two visits and two page views.

Let’s further say that your site has three ad positions on every page.

In the example above, you now have one unique visitor, two visits, two page views and six ad impressions.

For the sake of online advertising revenue, the more page views, the better. Page views are important because they help measure total advertising inventory.

The visits measure tells you a great deal about frequency. Like newspapers and broadcast, the sales and marketing value of a Web site is about reach and frequency.

Tactics That Increase Audience

Online newspaper audience measurement

Online news sites often experience two to three unique visitors a month even though they often post news every day.

Surprisingly, the typical newspaper Web site has only two to three visits per unique visitor per month even though many of them — as well as TV stations — post news on their sites every day.

Some local people have the site set as their browser home page; they drive a high number of monthly visits.

Visitors to a news site from search engines may visit only one time, view one page and never come back again. They drive the frequency number back down.

So optimizing a site for search engines may increase the unique visitors but drive down the frequency of visits.

Some tactics that increase unique visitors include:

Tactics that increase visits (return frequency):

  • Fast-loading pages
  • Email newsletters with high open and click rates
  • Frequent social media posting
  • New content on a regular basis
  • Top quality content that is shared via social media

Tactics that increase page views:

  • Optimized navigation
  • Fast-loading pages
  • Multiple links at the top of the page
  • Well-written article titles
  • Links within articles

In the long run, growing the three metrics requires pursuing all available tactics on a regular basis. It’s helpful to have a set of goals in each area and use a spreadsheet that tracks the results on a monthly basis as well as comparing year over year totals.

Tracking Unique Visitors

Unique visitors is the most important measurement of the three but also the most difficult one.

A unique visitor can be an IP address of a computer at home. But the home may have one occupant or five, all of whom may use that computer.

Likewise, a person can use one computer at work and another at home.

She is only one person but two unique visitors because she is using two computers.

To overcome these issues, the best current way to measure a local online audience is through qualitative surveys and site registration.

Content Web sites are getting better at measuring audiences and looking at them in similar ways with similar terminology.

We can hope eventually we will get as good at measuring our local audiences as accurately as circulation departments do with newspapers or Nielsen does with TV.

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