What and how to measure Media and Content websites

By media and content websites, I am talking about pure online media properties like CNET as well as companies (e.g. traditional newspapers like New York Post) who must somehow, either be in the midst of an involuntary transitioning of readers, from offline content consumption (their paper) to online content consumption (their website) – or in the fortunate circumstance that they managed to set up a business model that compliments both channels at the same time. (I am of course talking about any other website where the product is content – thus your typical affiliate website!)

Studies by analysts in general and in particular Jupiter Research concludes that – we are seeing an increased hunger for personalization and thereby a disaggregation of the website – and at the same time the emergence of an online-only audience who at the same time demand participation (social media as we konow it today).

Which makes me conclude on a progressive path and journey most media and content website have to take:

  1. Media
  2. Online Media
  3. Online Social Media

This seems straightforward and as understandable as in taking the newspaper (Media) and reprocess the content on a website (Online Media) and then throw in a couple of “post a comment” widgets (Online Social Media). I do hope that we all agree that is takes a lot more than that! …and that a lot more is at stake. As online social media continues its striking invasion into the overall media landscape and seize valuable mindshare, particularly from the younger demographic, the degree to which a traditional media company move towards the final goal of social integration of its audience is rapidly becoming a proxy for its ability to survive the future.

If we partly agree on the above I think we also agree that It is simply NOT enough to just randomly report on the effects of this transitioning – in vague hopes of moving towards this goal of social integration. One have to accept that however sexy Online Social Media or even just your Online Media (your basic content website) sound, there MUST be a set of measurable KPI’s across all three steps from above – and they should very much be aligned to your business objectives.

Content websites business objectives:

  • Increase Advertising Revenue
  • Increase Subscriptions

Having in mind that I am allowing for a broad interpretation of the term “subscription” – the above clearly defines the business objectives for most Media and Content websites. Assuming that you agree with me, we then have the opportunity to define a set of specific KPI’s and accompanying important metrics to drive those objectives forward:

Content websites advertising revenue KPI’s:

  • Advertising Revenue
  • Visits per week
  • Ad units per visit*
  • Ads served*
  • Ad CTR

* The “Ad units per visit” KPI is a replacement for the old “page views per visit” as a way of indicating the size of your Ad inventory and the “Ads served” KPI is the actual number of revenue generating banners or other media type served in those units.

Remember, that when talking about these 5 important KPI’s (and no business should really have more than 5 KPI’s on a management level) – we are not just talking about a set of basic reports on their performance in retrospective – we are talking about collecting data on a granular level so that we can both report AND more importantly do analysis on these – by segmenting, slicing and dicing them any way imaginable.

Content websites subscription KPI’s:

  • Subscribers
  • Anonymous visitors to subscriber conversion rate*
  • Cost per new subscriber (CPA)
  • Subscriber churn rate
  • Articles viewed per visit

* “Subscribers” is not necessarily the same as or equal to that of an off-line subscriber, this could be something as loose as a RSS subscriber to something as tangible as an online paying subscriber (who get’s access to premium content by login and password).

Content Websites KPI control elements:

  • KPI Targets
  • KPI Indexes
  • KPI Competitive Intelligence

I am sorry to add to the list of tasks, but one simply have to create a credible target for every single content websites KPI that we discussed above (credible as in utilizing competitive intelligence to set realistic goals) so that there is a clear driver within the organization on where it is going. At the same time while working towards those targets one need to create a sensible content website KPI index that can be used when doing analysis for the KPI in question (sensible as in taking into consideration how the KPI fluctuates due to season, campaigns and other factors). Finally utilizing competitive intelligence to spot market opportunities for optimization and general KPI improvement.

NOW – having clear business objectives, 10 well defined content website KPI’s and a set of KPI control elements in place – we get the opportunity to put all this to work, as in nobody should go to the extent of setting up a framework as the above without aggressively pursuing a performance improvement in ones business objectives. It’s really not worth measuring something if you cannot or will-not take any action on it, and to be worth taking action on, it has to have some kind of measurable monetary value. There is no magic 5 points to optimize, but given the framework as described above one would have an unlimited number of opportunities to make more money! – find a couple of suggestion below:

But before starting to think about optimization (however basic) – you need to make sure that the Web Analytics tool that you have deployed can collect and not only report on the mentioned KPI’s – but more importantly: That you are given the technological opportunity to do analysis!

Content websites optimization opportunities:
(7 basic and to some extent obvious suggestions)
My first comment is that before trying to optimize anything for the better – some sort of potential monetary valuation should be put on the effort as in; are we looking to increase revenue EUR 10.000 per year or are we looking to increase revenue EUR 2.000.000 per year and with what certainty can this be determined.

As an example, let’s say that we have 15 Ad units served per visit and that we have an Ad unit CPM value of EUR 3 and that we have 1.000.000 visits per week (notice how all of these are KPI’s) – this leaves us with a weekly Advertising Revenue on = EUR 45.000 (1.000.000 visit * 15 Ad units per visit / 1000 (CPM) * 3 EUR). The optimization opportunity in question estimates that we can increase the number of Ad units served to 18 by adding a small additional unit AND that there will be a 0.30 EUR decrease in Ad unit CPM value due to this (notice that we utilize our KPI’s index here). Therefore a monetary opportunity on EUR 3600 per week or in perspective approximately an opportunity per year of an additional EUR 188.000 in revenue!

Here goes is my 7 basic and obvious suggestions (very specific and less strategic though) on what you should look into when optimizing a content website:

  1. Segment articles based on ad unit placement to create insight on what ad unit placement drive the biggest Ad CTR KPI without decreasing the Ad units per visit.
    Opportunity: Increase Advertising Revenue by optimized ad unit size and placement.
  2. Segmenting the Anonymous visitors to subscriber conversion rate KPI by campaign channels (in my world ALL incoming traffic should be part of a campaign, this including SEO activities) to find and focus on better performing channels and campaigns.
    Opportunity: To increase the Anonymous visitors to subscribers conversion and thus if visits are constant the number of new subscribers
  3. Reporting on the Subscriber churn rate KPI over a given period and drill through (on spikes) to articles (or specific HTML pages) – to determine and create insight of less compelling content. Although it is nearly impossible to determine why subscribers end their relation with you (as basic as stop coming to the Website) – it is still possible over time with repeatedly insight on the same fact to drive a conclusion on what type of content is badly chosen.
    Opportunity: Decrease the Subscriber churn rate KPI and thus increase the numbers of total subscribers.
  4. Setting up basic external campaign tracking on ALL channels from PPC to Email to affiliate networks and compare not only channels, but compare campaign to campaign across channels, sorting out high performers and low performers to Decrease the Cost per Subscriber (CPA) KPI.
    Opportunity: To decrease the average cost per new subscriber and thus an the opportunity to re-invest that into new external campaigns
  5. Utilizing the articles viewed per visit KPI together with the Visual Overlay tools from your Web Analytics package to define Homepage content blocks — not unique articles — (this works for content category front pages as well). These content blocks typically on e.g. a newspaper website being; “Main article”, 2 sets of “Sub articles” and a list of “Most popular articles” and so forth. Then determining a CTR (Click trough rate) baseline for each of these content blocks – Now having an Index on the expected click through on e.g. the main article on the homepage on, say, 14% – any underperforming articles (as compared to the index and thus below 14%) can be replaced.
    Opportunity: Increase the Articles viewed per visit by pulling underperforming articles away from prominent positions.
  6. Tracking ALL your Internal Promotions (essential campaign tracking for banners or links on your site promoting other sections on your site) and then segmenting your visitors by these Internal Promotions and looking at the Ad units per visit KPI – you will to begin with, find out which internal promotions actually drive more Ad units (potential revenue) and more importantly which internal promotion does not work and at worst drive DOWN Ad units per visit according to your index.
    Opportunity: Increased Ad inventory by better internal promotions.
  7. Try to increase the “quality” of your Ad units per visit KPI by using External Data Sources and relate your CRM user database to the Member-ID tracking done by your Web Analytics package (this will give a plethora of opportunities), but one obvious is generating a simple report by content group and thereby get insight into the demographics and sociographics for every specific content group, whether that be sports, politics or tech.
    Opportunity: Increase the Ad unit CPM value by demanding higher pricing for better targeting and at the same time expect higher Ad CTR

Even though these 7 basic suggestions (and both you and I could come up with 50 others) somehow seem simple – then I am confident that anybody running a content site would be far better off looking at and concentrating on the KPI’s framework described.

My overall conclusion in this post about media and content websites is that; one simply cannot be successful — in the long run – as a media company moving towards embracing Online Social Media, if not one or more activities around enterprise optimization analysis is deployed. I hope that the above somehow indicated and inspired which direction to go in.

I recently wrote a post about what and how to measure Online Social Media websites, this including 7 online social media optimization opportunities (which I suggest you take a look at – should you be on the path towards becoming an Online Social Media). You will see that the KPI’s in that post to some extent are a progression of the KPI’s for Media and Content websites. Which is of course only natural and expected.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I appreciate the article – I am developing a business plan ‘IN STEALTH MODE…’ for a new ‘event driven’ UGC site but am struggling to ‘reasonably’ accurately forecast click thru revenues – in particular the unit value of a click thru – I know this depends on several factors but it would be great if there was a referenceable table giving typical revenues for ranges of CTR / Month against various Ad models…Banner / Adsense ETC – can you help or point me in the right direction. Many Thanks, Alan

  • Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Alan,

    See, that is not a bad question. However; the information is not as secret as you might think.

    First let me answer your question: “it would be great if there was a reference table giving typical revenues for ranges of CTR / Month against various Ad models…Banner / Adsense ETC”

    There is not a list (at least not at a level where you would not do your own research) that models ad types and revenue levels – and again, it depends so much on your site and industry that the “list” would be a database to make sense, but that might be a business idea :-). The general attitude is that AdSense (or any other contextual Ad-system) pays less than general Affiliate Marketing (if you employ experts) and that sponsorships (or other self managed display ads) can generate very high eCPM’s beyond Affiliate Marketing should your site be one of high focus.

    I suggest you:

    Use one of the bigger affiliate networks (for research) on the geographical market you plan to operate in (Or go with a global player like e.g. CJ) – and use their revenue median to get clear and real data on the prospective Revenue Per Click for your industry. You can of course use a number of affiliate networks to corroborate the findings. (it is typically free to sign up for any of these networks)

    A real example using CJ and with the assumption that you want to play the Accessories industry (Handbags, Jewellery, Shoes and so on).

    CJ Accessories Median EPC (Earnings per click – as they call it) = $0.23
    (I would also suggest use an average of the e.g. 5 highest and 5 lowest retailer EPC’s in any projections to get an idea of the potential upside and downside)

    Then comes of course the question of what is a valid expected CTR? :-) But that is a different matter. With a solution of course.

    But for the fun of it: 100.000 page views per day * 3 Ad’s per page * 0.5% CTR average * $0.23 EPC = $10.350 per month in revenue.
    (effectually an eCPM on $3.45)

    I am not saying this is what to expect – more giving you an idea of how to work it :-)


  • Tristan Bailey

    Would you not take into account the time on the site too? As with a user reading more they might be a better reader? Rather than someone who just checks the pages.

    Nice article though, as I have been trying to work out how to value a content site.

  • Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Tristan,

    great question and I would not say that either you or me is right or wrong. I tried (which to some extent is difficult nowadays) to differ between a Social Network and a more traditional Media and Content site in my two postings:

    - What and how to measure Social Networking websites
    - What and how to measure Media and Content websites

    Whereas I suggest using a Total time spent on site – KPI when meassuring Online Social Networks. I disregarded this KPI when looking at these more traditional Media and Content sites due to several considerations, but mostly:

    a) That content is to a large extent created by the publisher not the user and the article serves as a purpose towards some kind of conversion.
    b) A content site (if we look at the traditional newspaper) lives by the article – one at a time and meassurement (KPI) are mainly related to articles.

    But we see a drift of traditional media towards online social media and as such a use of the Total time spent on site – KPI.


    I am happy that the post could add some input to your research on the matter…

  • Pingback: Visual Revenue | What and how to measure Online Finance websites