The Only Metric That Matters For Content Marketing

At Pixable, we — like almost every digital property — are in the eyeball game. We are one of thousands of media companies competing for attention, and, in our case, we seek the attention of young, highly social readers with seemingly infinite interests.

It goes without saying that attention grabbing begins with a catchy headline (in fact, we tested three headlines for this article alone), but the real challenge is this: After getting the audience’s attention, how do you keep it?

Below is a headline test targeted at content publishers and digital marketers. It shows the relative increase in click-through rate compared to our original headline. Variations 2 and 3 were both statistically significantly better than the original, but not between each other, so we just chose the one we preferred.Pix-2

Of course, catchy headlines existed long before the Internet, but with the ability to track and analyze reader responses, we now have data measuring our success. Today’s headline optimization has become a mixture of art and science to get those over-inundated readers to stop scrolling, swiping or scanning and click.

And while headline clicks will never stop being a priority, getting those readers to the page is just the beginning. The click is meaningless if the content is not “engaging” to read or watch all the way to the end.

It’s easy to say that audience engagement is the most important metric of success for any modern media organization — it’s also a broad and ambiguous term. Engagement can refer to everything from sharing and commenting to average time on site. For Pixable, engagement boils down to one simple metric: What percentage of readers finish the story — or as we like to call it, read-through-rate (RTR).

Think about it. It’s one thing to click on a compelling headline — and even get through the first paragraph — but it’s another thing entirely for a reader to consume all the content behind the click. In fact, data shows that only 15 percent of readers make it to the end of an average web article. At Pixable, 60-70 percent of our audience read our stories all the way through to the end, which is something we’re even more proud of than the thousands of shares and other social actions our stories generate.

From our data, high read-through-rates happen because of three things:

  • Knowing your audience’s diverse tastes (Marketing 101)
  • Telling compelling, and visual, stories
  • Using technology and data to match the stories with the audience

(To this last point I’ll add that Pixable is vertically agnostic within the 18-34 demographic, and this has proven to be a big asset; but that’s another topic for another day.)

Read-through-rate is the most important metric for Pixable, but it should be the most important one for brands, too. Successful online advertising has moved beyond banner ads into creative branded content. Because of this, the reader needs to spend time with the story, consume the entire message and actually connect with the brand. This doesn’t happen if the reader is clicking off to something else on the third sentence.

Facebook realizes this, too. Earlier this month they announced plans to start taking into account how much time readers spend on stories. The ones you take time to read and watch will be prioritized on top of the ones you scroll through without paying attention. Facebook believes that time spent reading an article is just as important, if not more important, than the number of likes, shares and comments on any given story.

At the end of the day, we all need to move beyond the vanity metrics and start looking at what is actually being consumed. Through technology we can now evaluate reader/viewer patterns to make content more compelling for our audience, while engaging across interests. Read-through-rates may be a simple metric, but it’s an important one that the entire company — from journalist to sales to marketing to the CEO — can get.

Ultimately, what you’re really asking yourself is this: Is the content you’re producing interesting enough for someone to read or view it all the way through? If the answer is yes, everyone wins.