In a previous column, I wrote about the importance of self-publishing on your own domain and why, in a world of streams, your own platform that you host remains your most critical asset. As a follow-up to that, one of my friends who runs a popular blog asked me to expand upon that post and list some of the metrics I thought were most important for independent publishers. While there is no single list of metrics every type of publisher should use to measure against, I have three personal favorite buckets of metrics publishers should consider as key groups to analyze/optimize against that I’ve used to help clients and improve my own sites.
1. Ad/Monetization Metrics – How Is My Site Performing?
Assuming you already have a thriving site (after all, no site is going to be profitable or even generate earnings out the gate), analyzing and optimizing against monetization metrics is an important step to take to grow your revenue and be able to confidently reinvest in content, promotion, etc. Even if your site is new, understanding how you monetize with less traffic remains important, because it’s probably not worth your time scaling traffic if you aren’t going to see a good return from it.
Until going through the effort of adding a zero onto your page views (this is not easy) is worth the returns of getting that additional zero on your earnings, you should continue to test your monetization strategy. As a note, for most publishers it is smart to diversify revenue streams between advertising, some sort of product (either paid digital content like e-books, physical products like T-shirts), events, etc. to not make you over-reliant on one thing. A final tip with this bucket: Wrangle your monetization universe so you know what hard numbers you will have to achieve at the top of the funnel to get to the right monetary outcomes to support the site (the above image is via AdSense earnings for one of my sites, but if I was generating other revenue from it I would want to measure that, too). For better AdSense measurement in Analytics, check out this post from my colleague Daniel Waisberg.
2. Audience Behavior Metrics – Does My Publishing Actually Attract Repeat Visitors?
When looking at site analytics, I think a lot of sites (especially traditional publishers just starting to care about digital measurement) make the mistake of simply chasing more page views, more social shares, etc. But the audience reports in Google Analytics (under audience > behavior) tell the story for how difficult it is going to be to grow a site due to user loyalty. If you hit one spike but none of those visitors return, that was one-time revenue you might have earned from them (and it will likely be tiny as first-time visitors are not as likely to generate revenue).
The loyalty factor matters so much because you want acquisition/top-of-funnel metrics to grow over time, but this becomes extraordinarily difficult if you are on a perpetual, infinite hunt for new users and none ever return. Smaller/newer sites will have a greater issue with developing loyalty because it may take multiple times getting in front of the same user before they form that all-important habit of seeing your site as a daily or weekly visit (and hopefully eventual subscriber). In addition to looking at things like new vs. returning visitors, you should also check out frequency/recency reports, which for publishers can help you determine your own cadence for publishing.
3. Delivery/Community Metrics – Am I Growing a Base of People for Organic Amplification?
Different from the above loyalty metrics, subscriber and community metrics (let’s go ahead and put those together for the purposes described here) are the number of people who have opted-in to receive your updates each month, and are actually viewing said content. With an ever-increasing amount of ways users receive recurring content digitally: social, apps, RSS/email (shown above) etc., publishers need to plug into the Web in all ways possible and be agile/open to new opportunities to build community as they happen. I like to call this focusing opt in at the source and the benefits here are your publication will become platform agnostic and not at the whim of the changing tides of digital since you are guaranteed to reach users with each new piece of content.
Of course there are more things to take a look at from a publisher perspective. Some things not mentioned above would include the content archetypes and groups that generate the most amount of awareness and attention, your site’s best authors/voices, types of headlines that work best, advanced content tracking, etc. But it’s been my experience working with most publishers on the agency side that those with a passionate, interested community and have figured out a way to unlock revenue in a sustainable way are the ones that thrive.