Making metrics relevant

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Metrics. Analytics. Optimization. This isn't the kind of language that makes most b-to-b media salespeople comfortable.

It is, however, the language of the Internet, which has revolutionized media with its ability to measure just about anything related to it. Deciding what to measure is the challenge for b-to-b media publishers.

This topic was discussed at American Business Media's Digital Velocity conference last month, but there was no discernable trend among the types of measurements, more commonly known as metrics or analytics, publishers are using.

"The hardest thing to do right now, with all the data that's out there, is to figure out what's important and what's not," said Aaron Kahlow, managing partner of consulting firm Business Online.

In short, there are no one-size-fits-all standards. Publishers and salespeople need to work with clients beforehand to establish what will be measured—and the media salesperson must have a working knowledge of Web analytics.

"Analytics provide a competitive advantage for us," said David Newcorn, VP of e-media at Summit Publishing. Telling an advertiser how many people viewed its ad—which relates to the CPM (cost-per-thousand) pricing model—doesn't work in the very specific niche Summit Publishing covers with Packaging World and because metrics showed that increasing traffic had no direct correlation with the generation of leads, he said.

"We now provide a different form of analytics for all the advertisers on our site," Newcorn said. "In addition to giving them full-profile leads, we are providing analysis of their advertising performance on a campaign-by-campaign basis—by state, by job category, by individual title, by industry, by company size and so forth."

These metrics empower advertisers to target their messages to the most likely buyers of their products without pulling Summit into a numbers game. "When it comes to CPM, someone is always going to be willing to sell for less," Newcorn said.

"We've experienced an advertiser renewal rate above 90% and a considerable amount of growth to our top-line revenue," he said. "Those are the metrics that are important to us."

In contrast to Summit, traffic and page views are measurements that matter at IDG's sites for Computerworld, Infoworld and CXO Media, said Martha Connors, VP-general manager of online for the group.

"The most inexpensive and efficient way to drive traffic to a site is to develop the right kind of content," Connors said. Web sites are increasingly including user-generated content and stories written by the editors, but Web site designs often keep the user content out of plain sight.

Connors said the article template—the layout that's standard for all the stories on the site—is more important than any single page, including the home page. "For us, 70% of our traffic starts at an article page," she said.

Connors has been tweaking these pages to make user comments more prominent. "We've seen 26% growth in page views on Computerworld because we pulled comments up into a box within the article," she said. The box highlights the users' top-rated comments and shows the first dozen or so words of those posts.

"We measure everything we do, and we have only two metrics for success—performance and monetization," said Jeff DeBalko, chief Internet officer at Reed Business Information-U.S. "Technology development is great, but if you're not making money it doesn't matter much."

When the interactive division was formed in fall 2006, one of the first things DeBalko did was invest in a powerful Web analytics system that could eventually be used throughout the company.

With the bounty of knowledge the Web analytics system provided about Reed audiences, DeBalko has been able to sell advertising in new ways.

An inside sales team now focuses on online advertisers. "We also created a network sales organization to sell horizontally, with markets like small and midsize businesses, C-level and IT. Both of those have become multimillion-dollar businesses for us," he added.

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