Chartbeat Aims to Show Publishers If Their Ads Work

Below-the-Fold Isn't an Advertising Wasteland After All

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Many a news operation has fallen in love with Chartbeat, the web-analytics software that gives reporters and editors a real-time look into which parts of their websites readers are visiting. Now Chartbeat has begun mining that same publisher data to help digital-media salespeople sell ads on parts of their websites historically dismissed as advertising wastelands.

In December, Chartbeat began offering a handful of publisher sales teams a beta version of a new dashboard that displays the amount of engaged time website visitors are spending in front of certain ad-unit placements and certain sections of the site. By arming sales teams with this information, Chartbeat believes it can help them make a case to brand advertisers that certain parts of webpages are more valuable than originally assumed. (Direct-response advertisers already use audience buying to find the best impressions to buy, often no matter page placement.)

"The lesson is that the place where readers are spending their time is not where we traditionally assumed," said Alex Carusillo, a product manager at Chartbeat.

In conversations with editorial departments, Chartbeat kept hearing that a big challenge for them is striking a balance between creating compelling, high-end work while at the same time churning out as many posts as possible to increase page views because most ads are sold on an impression basis.

So Chartbeat conducted an online study with 1,500 people to see if pages that have high levels of engagement -- what Chartbeat tracks and calls "engaged time" -- get higher brand recall for the ads on them. When an article that contained an ad was placed in front of a reader for five seconds, only 50% of readers were able to identify the advertiser afterward. But when Chartbeat extended viewing time to 15 seconds, about 70% of readers recalled the brand's name. Chartbeat is now working with a third party to further validate the correlation.

Beyond that, Chartbeat identified another interesting trend in its publisher data. When it looked at 1 million anonymous readers across 10 websites: 66% of the "engaged time" over a 24-hour period happened "below the fold" -- or below the part of page that originally showed up in the browser when a reader first opened a page. Not surprisingly, the data analysis also showed that web visitors are only engaged for a few seconds at the top of the page, where the highest-priced ads often sit.

"We've been placing value in the wrong places," Mr. Carusillo said. "We decided banners on top were the most valuable ... because they were easy to measure because you know people saw them even if they flew by."

The "engaged time" essentially measures how long a person is showing some signs of activity -- such as scrolling or moving a cursor -- while a browser tab is open. The company believes its engagement metric is more accurate than most others, because Chartbeat checks for signs of activity every second.

Buzzmedia, one publisher with beta access to the advertising dashboard, believes the "engaged time" metric could eventually help it create new ad products and packages, such as one that would run an advertiser's ads exclusively next to the 10 articles with the highest engagement time, said Director of Product Max Engel.

Craig Atkinson, chief digital officer at media agency PHD, said the industry could benefit from a new type of engagement metric if the correlation between "engaged time" and branding performance holds up.

"We want to find the highest-value areas of any partner sites," he said. "I'm all for changing the conversation about pricing if we can prove the value piece."

Chartbeat plans to eventually charge for the product once it's out of beta.

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