Online advertising has long been dominated by the click and impression — how much an ad is shown to users. Now the industry is establishing a new metric: our attention.
People click on the average Internet display ad about .1 percent of the time. It's a dismal fraction for advertisers, and it doesn't tell the full story. Ads can have a large branding impact on us even if we don't click on them. That's why advertisers need metrics that deliver a more nuanced picture, says Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile.
His company is the first to have its techniques for quantifying attention certified by the Media Ratings Council, an organization that determines if an audience measurement tool is “valid, reliable, and effective.” For years, Chartbeat has been measuring attention for web content — trying to determine if we are really engaging with websites, or just happen to have the tab open while watching a cat video elsewhere. The company is now taking the tools it built for content and applying them to advertising.
To analyze our engagement, Chartbeat measures things like how we move the mouse, scroll, and tap on our keyboards. “All of those signals effectively allow us to get a picture of behavior,” Haile says, “it gives us a sense of when attention is happening or when someone is distracted.”
Chartbeat's content analytics have been especially popular with news organizations. They use it and other services to see what articles engage readers. You might recognize a few of Chartbeat's clients: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN. Now, some are starting to use it for ads as well.
Jon Slade directs digital advertising for the Financial Times. With attention metrics, he says, “I'm able to value engagement and commercialize it.” That helps the site compete against websites with a larger volume of content that people interact with more superficially. The metrics are changing how the Financial Timessells ads. Advertisers can now pay for how long people will see and engage with an ad instead of how many times it will be shown and clicked on. It's quality over quantity, Slade says — a huge shift for online advertising, and a better business model for those who create content.
This shift in the advertising industry could be a big boost for news sites. In the words of Trevor Fellows, “the recognition that not all impressions are equal is huge.”
Fellows is the chief revenue officer for The Wall Street Journal. He says attention metrics will show advertisers it's worth paying to have ads displayed next to engaging content. It's a way for news sites to stand out from the soup that is the Internet.
Fellows predicts it will be a while before engagement becomes a standard measurement in the advertising industry. “A change of this magnitude is going to be a long time in becoming commonplace,” he says. Advertisers still quibble over the old metrics—how to determine whether an ad has actually been viewed and intentionally clicked.When it comes to human attention there's more going on than just the push of a button.