How the ‘Attention Web’ is Changing Content Marketing Metrics


Long gone are the days when clickthroughs and time-on-page were the most important content marketing metrics. Today, many publishers are changing their approach to shifts in audience behavior to focus on attention and engagement as the defining measurements of success.

Content marketing Metrics

Although pageviews and unique visitors are still relatively valuable metrics to marketers, they don’t paint a complete picture of how people are interacting with your content.

In today’s post, we’re going to examine the trend of analyzing how visitors are engaging with your site, not just how many, and look at some examples of this shift and how you can start measuring audience attention.

RELATED: 32 Free Content Marketing Tools

What is the Attention Web?

Firstly, while the so-called “attention web” is a genuine shift in how marketers and publishers assess the success of their content, the term itself is far from definitive. First coined by Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile, “the attention web” refers to changing attitudes in the online publishing industry and a growing focus on how people actually engage with content, rather than merely measuring pageviews or clicks.

Various publishers refer to their attention and engagement metrics differently. Upworthy, for example, refers to one of its most important metrics as “attention minutes.” This is calculated by analyzing two separate metrics – total views within a given period, and the total amount of time a user actually reads or watches the content. As you can see in the figure below, the difference between attention minutes and pageviews is considerable.

Content marketing metrics pageviews vs attention minutes

Similarly, blog platform Medium has what it calls “the only metric that matters,” which is Total Time Reading. While Upworthy tends to utilize clickbait to not only attract but sustain audience interest, Medium utilizes metrics such as scroll depth and word count to gauge how long a piece of content takes to read, and then serves it up to its audience. This not only serves as a reliable indicator of audience engagement, but it also makes it easier for readers to choose articles that match their available time or attention span.

Content marketing metrics Medium read time

Audience Attention and the Future of Content Marketing Metrics

If publishers are so concerned about how to measure the success of their content, what does that mean for advertisers? Well, content marketers aren’t the only ones making the transition from clicks to engagement. Major publications are moving gradually toward new pricing models for advertising inventory based on audience attention, including the Financial Times.

Content marketing metrics Financial Times headquarters in London

Earlier this year, The Drum recently reported that bosses at the FT decided to move away from the traditional CPM advertising model and focus on selling ads based on audience engagement.

“We can now report back to a client and say ‘we served you a thousand ads, and of those, 500 were seen for one second, 250 were seen for 10 seconds and 250 were seen for 30 seconds,” said Jon Slade, commercial director of digital advertising at the FT. “The next obvious step is to sell blocks of time.”

Although adoption of these advertising and content marketing metrics is still in its nascent stages, the FT remains confident that in time, many publishers will transition to this model. Based on its own research data, the FT claims that 40% of advertisers who had trialed the system gave it “a double thumbs-up,” and that 90% of media buyers expect that viewability and attention metrics will soon become the currency of the online advertising space – at least for display ads.

Content marketing metrics Pulp Fiction Jules and Vincent two thumbs up

The FT isn’t the only publisher that thinks attention metrics could be the future of online advertising. Upworthy is also mulling the idea of incorporating audience attention into its advertising packages. Ed Urgola, head of marketing at Upworthy, told Mashable that while the site doesn’t currently charge advertisers based on time viewed, it may do so in the future if advertisers embrace the idea.

How to Focus on Attention in Content Marketing Metrics

So, now that we’ve established that attention and engagement are the content marketing metrics you should be focusing on, how do you go about it?

Measuring Engagement in Google Analytics

Before we dive into the specifics of measuring audience engagement in Google Analytics, let’s take a moment for a quick refresher on how Analytics calculates time measurements.

There are five types of what Google refers to as “engagement hits” (courtesy of Justin Cutroni):

  • Ecommerce transaction hits
  • Ecommerce transaction item hits
  • Interactive event hits
  • Pageview hits
  • Social plugin hits

As we covered in a previous blog post about dwell time, content marketing metrics such as Time on Page are calculated based on user actions, like second clicks or multiple pageviews. This is represented in the figure below:

Content marketing metrics time on page diagram

Image credit: Justin Cutroni

However, as we can see, calculating the Time on Page for the third pageview is impossible, as there is no second action to provide Google Analytics with both the first and last actions to calculate the Time on Page accurately. This is why measuring audience engagement in pageviews alone can be problematic. An alternative approach is to measure engagement hits on single pages, as shown in the figure below.

Content marketing metrics engagement hits diagram

Image credit: Justin Cutroni

As you can see, this technique provides greater insight into how people are interacting with the content on a page, but it still isn’t ideal, as there is no way to accurately determine the point at which the visitor exits the page. So what can you do?

Advanced Content Tracking in Google Analytics

Advanced Content Tracking, or ACT, reports on actions taken by the user when certain events are triggered. This data can then be viewed in Google Analytics, providing you with the invaluable insight into user behavior we’ve been talking about.

ACT can be used to measure the following actions:

  • How many users scroll through a page
  • When a user starts to scroll
  • When a user reaches the end of a post (not the end of the page)
  • When a user reaches the bottom of a page
  • How quickly a user is scrolling (useful data that can ascertain whether someone is really reading or just scanning an article)

Using ACT, you can specify certain variables depending on the type of content you typically produce. For example, you can state that if a user scrolls through a page at a certain speed, then they are most likely scanning the post rather than reading it.

Setting Up ACT in Google Analytics

First, your site will need jQuery. This can be done by linking to Google’s servers, and embedding the jQuery source in the <head> tags of your site’s pages. The code looks like this:

<script src="//"></script>

Next, you’ll need to copy the ACT JavaScript code from JSFiddle, and copy this into your <head> tags, too. If you’re not sure how to do this, be sure to ask your site administrator!

Once you’ve got ACT set up and running correctly, you’ll notice that it will impact both your bounce rate and average time on site. This is because ACT will classify readers who spend a specified period of time on the page as “engaged,” which will disqualify them as bouncing visitors. You’ll also notice that the average time on site will probably increase as a result of this flow.

The technical details of implementing and manipulating this code are way beyond the scope of this post, but for a detailed write-up on what the code does, check out this post by Google’s Justin Cutroni.

Pay Attention

Pageviews are still a useful content marketing metric, but as publishers find themselves competing in an increasingly crowded space, it will become even more important to truly understand how your visitors are engaging with your content. How the attention web will impact the world of paid search remains to be seen, but for now, there is little doubt that engagement is definitely shaping the world of content marketing.

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Dave Schneider
Jul 22, 2014

Hey Dan,Thanks for writing this article. You are absolutely right about focusing on engagement and I love how that is changing every year.Thanks againDave at NinjaOutreach

Dan Shewan
Jul 24, 2014

Thanks, Dave. I'm glad you found the post useful.

Computer Heros
Jul 22, 2014

Thank you Very Much for helpful Information.

Isaac Rudansky
Jul 23, 2014

Hey there Dan, Thank you for your though-provoking and intriguing insights. It's always fascinating to know we're on the cusp of a (potential) paradigm shift in the advertising / digital publishing landscape. Like you said, many of the moving parts are still in their nascent stage, and it may be some time yet before the tools to actionably analyze engagement are ubiquitously implemented. Personally, I think human behavior and all it's volatility and unpredictability is still very much that ... volatile and unpredictable. While engagement / attention metrics admittedly pack a great deal of value ... there's no end to the minutiae (neurosis?) that can manifest from an over-indulgence in this righteous journey to analyze our data ... with the universal ultimate goal to increase profits in some way shape or form.That being said, I've noticed a trend in human behavior, specifically relating to hyper-focused data analysis. We tend to get caught up in the excitement, and the quality of our content tends to suffer. It's hard to publish good content that people want to interact with (whether it's an ad, video or blog post), and it's even harder to do so on a consistent basis. While analyzing data on a complex level usually brings migraines and chronic back aches, there's a certain verve and joy associated with the immediate gratification of immediately measurable results. There are more aha! moments, more milestones where your productivity and diligence could be quantified and assessed, and there's a greater overall cohesiveness to the whole deal. We like structure and we like order. Even more, we like to accomplish - and even more than that, we like when our accomplishments are within the immediate grasp of our corporeal perceptions. There is no immediate payoff (in the majority of cases) when you publish a great piece of content. There is no payoff when your eyelids feel like they've been dipped in cement from sleepless nights of interminable research. There's no payoff when you sit down to do it all over again. And again.But spend a couple in your Google analytics account, and the emotional payoffs are huge. You can stand up at the end of your session and the palpable sense of accomplishment will make the content your analyzing pale in fun-factor comparison. You've made some nifty measurements, and you've drafted a precocious plan of optimizations. There's a certain organization to it all ... a certain fundamental aesthetic firmly immured in the bedrock of our psyche that draws us towards this type of work and pulls us away from the more important (in my opinion) work - the content itself. Understanding the many layers of our data is of paramount importance - and the infrastructure of what we do will dissolve without it ... but can it get out of hand? Are we being pulled in this direction by subconscious, but powerful forces? Could be ... but who really knows? Audience engagement can be great ... someday. When we have the tools to measure the vagaries of human behavior in a more reliable way. I've spent three times as long as I should have (with a lot of scrolling and re-scrolling) on 75% of the pages I've visited today because Ludovici Einaudi made me stop what I was doing and give my undivided attention to his friggin awesome music. Yes, I know ... that's only a small dilution of an otherwise stable data pool ... but add all the other sorts of mini dilutions and you get a majorly watered down potion. Once we're all finally on Spotify, I'm sure Google will find a way to compensate the audience engagement metrics with a time-spent-listening-to-spotify-while-browsing metric. But that's not really the point ... Let's focus on delivering fantastic content  and the data will (almost) take care of itself. Measure diligently - of course, but deliver first and foremost. Thanks again Dan for the truly insightful post. Best, Isaac Rudanskyco-founder AdVenture Media Group

Dan Shewan
Jul 24, 2014

Hey Isaac, thanks for reading and taking the time to leave such a comprehensive comment.I agree with you that the allure of such sophisticated metrics can be a distraction, if not handled correctly. As much data as we have available, there is no "secret" formula that guarantees content success. In the past, I've been absolutely convinced that a specific post will perform in a certain way, only to be (not so) pleasantly surprised when looking at the metrics.Overall, I'm right there with you about putting quality content first. It's great to have more information at our disposal, but if we put the cart before the horse, it's easy to lose sight of what we're trying to accomplish in the first place.Thanks again!

Nov 07, 2015

Thanks for sharing such a good opinion, paragraph is good, thats why
i have read it fully

David Weightman
Jul 23, 2014

This article makes sense. Must read. We know that everything changes that is why keeping ourselves updated of the information like this is vey important. 

Josh Graber
Jul 31, 2014

Dan,Thanks for the insightful read. I'm a big proponent of engagement-focused content.It can be hard to convince people that clickthrough rates, time on page and other "vanity metrics" aren't what they really want to go after. The people who take the time to interact and engage are the people that you should be going after...since I'm engaging here, I think that means I just tooted my own horn a bit haha.Anyway, solid article. I'll definitely be checking more of your stuff out!Thanks,Josh

Dan Shewan
Jul 31, 2014

Hey Josh,Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you enjoyed the post!I agree, it will be some time before any major exodus away from vanity metrics begins (remember how everyone and their grandmother "suddenly" jumped on content marketing in 2012/2013?), but I think, given time, it will happen eventually. That's not to say that vanity metrics will be abandoned completely, but I definitely think we'll see a more pronounced shift toward attention and engagement in the coming year or so.Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment.

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