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Time On Site: The Metric That Really Matters

Sep 30, 2015 / by Stefanie Neyland


Native advertising represents the new frontier of the digital marketing world and is showing undeniable promise of superseding traditional methods of advertising. But the question is: are we measuring it right?

The very concept of display advertising is unreservedly at odds with native advertising. It’s an entirely different beast to those pesky boxes and banners that have become all too familiar to us, and as a result, marketers are jumping the proverbial display ad ship and swimming to the land of native advertising en masse.

But why then, if the two channels are so fundamentally different, does the industry continue to measure the effectiveness of a native advertising campaign by using the same metrics as direct-response—that is, impressions and clicks?

Today we explore the reasons—and propose a cutting-edge solution.

The trouble with impressions

In display advertising, the success of a campaign is often determined by the number of impressions it receives. But if an advertiser has adopted a content-driven approach and has taken the time to craft an entertaining and useful article for its would-be customers, does a paltry impression really offer any value at all?

The answer is no, not really. Native advertising and the content it promotes is all about the actions a user takes after he or she clicks on the ad; impressions don’t hold a whole lot of value when it comes to the promotion of content. 


A new age of advertising demands a new kind of measurement. After all, advertisers want users to engage with their content—not just cast a cursory glance at it.

The trouble with clicks

The same goes for clicks as with impressions. Historically, an ad unit, with its associated click, has been viewed simply as a vehicle for directing a user to a brand’s landing page. But surely the real magic happens after the user has engaged with the ad and has started to actually consume the content? After all, a click doesn’t really mean much when it comes to measuring a user’s engagement with your brand. 


What's more, clicks don't take into account bounce ratesthat is, the percentage of visitors who leave a site after viewing only one page. Bounce rate, in addition to time on site, is another metric that often gets overlooked by marketersbut that's really only because they haven't been educated on its importance.


The truth is that bounce rates can offer a deeper insight into how visitors are interacting with your site. A low bounce rate is often a good indicator of the relevancy of a piece of content, which means that when a user clicks on an ad and is redirected to a landing page, the page lives up to their initial expectations and provides the value they were looking for.


Why time on site takes the crown

The success of any given campaign ultimately boils down to the cost of getting engagement from targeted users. Yet, as mentioned above, most marketers continue to measure campaign results by the number of impressions or clicks it yields.

But in the native advertising epoch, brands should be looking to find out what happens beyond the click—that is, what users do after they’ve landed on their content. By understanding post-click user engagement, marketers can make data-driven decisions about the optimization of bids.


For example, let’s say that site “x” drives users at $1.00 cost-per-click (CPC), but users are spending twice as long engaging with the content compared to site “z”, which offered a $0.90 CPC. Hypothetically speaking, if you were taking a traditional approach to optimization—like that used in display advertising—you might consider doubling down on site “z”. On the flip-side, when taking a content-driven approach, the time-on-site metric is key, meaning site “x” would offer the better performance.


A common barrier to using metrics like time on site to measure campaign performance is that many demand-side platforms (DSP) don't offer the tools needed to track the amount of time a user spends on a page once they've clicked on an ad. That is, until now. 


Example of the average time on site metric and number of 15-second engagements

StackAdapt is excited to have recently released a brand new platform upgrade that tracks user engagement, allowing advertisers to connect metrics on either side of the click and link branded content to direct response campaigns. To learn more about the new feature, check out this write-up recently published by Marketing Magazine.

In conclusion

If advertisers focus their optimization efforts towards what happens after the click, measuring the real return on investment of their branded content initiatives becomes a whole lot easier. It also offers a means of marrying direct response-focused campaigns with content-based strategies.

Post-click analytics will finally provide an answer to a critical question when it comes to the effectiveness of native advertising: are brands paying for users that are actually engaging with the content they’re presenting to them, or are they just glimpsing at it?


Because, let’s face it—real content engagement should be measured by tracking the amount of time a user spends on your site. That’s where the value really lies.

Topics: Insider, Blog Posts, Featured, FAQ

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