Commentary

Step Three: What's Your Story?

The first two steps to achieve publishing success online (make your building effortlessly wireless and redecorate your offices in whiteboards) were written for the eyes of publishing management. Step three is for the frontline.

If you sell media, you are a good storyteller. You have to be--because so much of what you communicate to buyers contains both interpretations and generalizations you create about the audience your property delivers.

The content you represent gives you a creative license to develop a "story of intent." You offer this explanation of your audience's intent with the goal of matching the attributes of the advertiser's product or service. For example, "the readers of Money magazine are meticulous about their finance strategy, which is why the meticulously designed Mercedes, and its progressive lease program, is ideal for them."

These are the kinds of stories woven in offline media sales, because we can only guess why a reader chose our property. Which is why search advertising is basking in dollars and glory --those who sell it know the exact intent of the user, so their sales story is relatively nonfiction. However, the instantaneous collection of content that dynamically occurs after a search term is typed lacks a consistent thread of credibility. That's one reason bigger brands have yet to buy significant amounts of search advertising--and why well-branded content remains perched on its throne.

So as an online publisher of branded content, you have the benefit of adding concise metrics to support your story of intent. But those new to selling online--either independently or as a unique complement to their offline platforms--tend to be careless with the very statistics that can elevate their storytelling. I think it's because there are so many online metrics to understand, sellers are failing to identify which ones matter most.

So here are the three bare-basic metrics you must know and communicate with confidence, to compete for an online budget. Knowing them won't get you the business--but demonstrating a lack of understanding of these metrics will lose it.

1. Monthly unique visitors. It is surprising how few publishing employees can state this exact total the way they can refer to their magazine's rate base, for example (if rate bases were reported monthly, the same issue would occur, I would imagine). So as an online publisher, release this data in a marketing sales sheet every month so all your employees are speaking off the same page. And salespeople need to be exact. Don't say "around 200,000"; give the specific number from the most recent month reported to sound more credible.

2. Visits per month. This is a statistical vision of how your readers integrate your content into their lives. It is derived by dividing the total number of visits your site gets in a given month by the number of monthly uniques. For example, if a Web site has 40,000 unique visitors, and generates 80,000 visits a month, it is safe to say that your unique visitors come to your site on average twice a month.

3. Pages viewed per visit. This metric paints a clear picture of what your average reader (or visitor) gets from each experience on your site. Whether they turn two pages or ten, this metric can be used effectively to tell a concise story regarding the intent of your readers when visiting your site.

There are other numbers, such as monthly impressions or percent reach of the total Internet population, for example, that many boast about. But these metrics do relatively nothing to help tell the story of why a reader comes to your site and what they get from their time spent.

So often, I hear salespeople talk about their audience metrics in comparison to their perceived competitors. "We have more uniques than they do," they say--or more reach-- but rarely do I hear the story those numbers tell.

Everyone loves a good story. What's yours? If you don't have one, you need to spend more time with these specific metrics and the story will unfold for you.

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