Stickiness - A Ludicrous Metric
For the purposes of any newcomers, stickiness is loosely defined as the function of a website to hold on to its user base for extended periods of time. Entertainment-based sites, offering a variety of board or card games for example, found that their average users might spend 30+ minutes in a typical web session. This was in stark contrast to a quick-fix site experience, which might involve checking stock quotes or the local weather report.
Considering we’ve revisited so many facets of the very foundation that underpinned the Internet Economy as we knew it, I thought it might be appropriate to do the same for the process of keeping users at a particular site.
According to NetRatings, the average time spent on any single page by a home user was 44 seconds in January of 2002. What exactly is this number telling us and how should we really be interpreting it? Are these 44 seconds equivalent to 44 “active” seconds, involving a 100% engaged user or is there a sizable chunk of this time allocated to idle or loading time?
The obvious takeaway is that we have a very small window of opportunity on any given-page to make an impression on our intended audience. Whichever way you look at it, 44 seconds is an awfully short time to make the most of an information-rich page – no prizes for guessing where a plethora of advertising messages fits into the hierarchy of user priorities in this scenario.
But is it at all possible that we shot ourselves in the foot with the stickiness measure, the same way we did with the click-through rate? What happens when we return to a given site several times in a day for example? The metric is after all an average, which meshes transition pages (means) together with destination pages (end).
So is stickiness being correctly measured under these conditions?
When you think about an offline comparison, it seems rather ludicrous that we ever determined a site’s worth based on how much time a user spends on its pages. Every time we hit the remote control on our television sets, aren’t we breaking the box’s equivalent of a stickiness measure?
The other end of the spectrum is equally disturbing. There are plenty of sites that enjoy the sticky benefits of automatic refreshing. Don’t get me wrong – there is value in automatically updating a sports score or stock price – just not when the user is away from their browser. The same applies to recent research, which reported that for the first time ever, the amount of time broadband users spent online was greater than their dial-up counterparts. Now I’m no math professor, but when you factor in respective adoption rates, the data seems a little too good to be true. I have cable access at home and I’m always online, but not always at my computer screen.
Then there’s the historical expectation of wanting a consumer to take immediate action (or conversion) when exposed to a piece of online communication. Logically, you would expect there to be an inverse relationship between stickiness and click-through. After all, if a user tends to spend more time on certain sites, then it would stand to reason that they would be less inclined to leave said site on a whim or an impulse click. Unfortunately, logic had nothing to do with how media was packaged and sold a short while back.
To counter this apparent paradox, publishers arduously tried to explain to their audience that by clicking on an ad, a separate window would open and they would not be taken away from the site. Sounds like the first signs of the pop-under to me.
Enter the time-contingent communication – advertising independent of any site-side stickiness metric – such as intromercials. These and similar units take the guesswork out of planning a buy based on how much time the intended user might spend on a particular site, page or section. They also level the playing field when it comes to attaching a media value to a particular function or piece of information.
I’m certainly not going to argue that a 10-minute game is worth more than a quick sports-score or weather-check interlude. Well, at least not based on stickiness.