Trust and the Attention Economy
The web has always been a publishing medium. As a matter of fact it’s the effect it had on the democratization of publishing that allowed ordinary people to produce content at will that has been a catalyst to dramatic change on many fronts.
When citizen-journalism is possible and content can be produced by anyone with a blog, a web cam and a digital camera (in any combination of the three) the gatekeeper role of content creators such as newspapers, magazines and big publishers becomes redundant. When content is created by so many, so fast, in so many different ways, indexing it requires more than just the ability to catalogue it. It needs context, importance, relevance and trustworthiness.
The wave of content that led to the explosion of Big Data on the web, became the reason that led us to sematic search. A clever means of organizing massive amounts of data so they do not overwhelm us semantic search (search, really, as semantic technology is powering almost every search engine) also changed the way we view the veracity of content. Used to taking advertising at face value, our response to it highly dependent on the inclusion of emotional triggers (playing heavily on our fears, concerns and worries) we now want content to talk to us using our language, addressing our real concerns, appealing to logic as well as emotion and connecting with us as real people, rather than faceless units in a potential audience addressed en masse by a cleverly crafted marketing message.
Branding, marketing, search engine optimization and content creation, then stopped being separate disciplines in the marketing toolbox, only passingly acknowledging each other. In the 21st century they have become a unified means of addressing the needs of the audience and a direct way of making contact with them.
A recent study by Chartbeat on the online news media data metrics showed that:
About 40% of visitors leave having spent fewer than 15 seconds engaged on the page — and yet the pageview is often viewed as the most important metric.
It’s not enough to get someone to click. We have to get them to read.
Chartbeat provides editorial reporting to 80 per cent of the leading digital publishers in the US, and in a further 60 countries globally, using its publishing tools to help editorial staff create engaging content and design sites so its statistics are based on sufficient data to sound a warning bell.
It’s All About Money
Online news sites of course don’t just serve news. They also serve ads and it is these that the statistic posted above is actually killing. When the news content you create is barely sufficient to stop the eye for 15 seconds, you can guarantee that no one is looking at the ads you charge clients, to place on the site.
The fact that attention and engagement are better metrics than pageviews has led the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s European body to urge adoption of viewability as the basis for display ad transactions, giving a virtual greenlight for publishers and advertisers to start using ‘attention’ as a significant advertising currency.
This is where trust comes in. News and content become compelling when it comes from a trustworthy source, has something relevant to say and presents it in a way that is very accessible. Making readers jump through hoops by separating a 500 word article into four pages so you can serve more ads and more pageviews (as an example) is neither the best way to grab their attention nor gain their trust.
So, what works?
- Transparency – by all means serve your needs as a publisher, eCommerce website, marketer but also acknowledge the fact that you care about your readers. Work hard to show you do. No one says business should not work hard to make money, but a business that resorts to the online equivalent of ‘dirty tricks’ in order to do so, fails to gain the respect of the audience it seeks to attract.
- Vulnerability – if you’re running a site you really need people to get there. Acknowledge that, then work to make their time on your site as productive as possible even to your own detriment. If an article can deliver its content in 200 words, beefing it up to 800 is a disservice to the reader. Yes, you want them to stay on your site and yes you want them to remember you and come back. Treat them like you would yourself. It’s the only way to gain trust and attention.
- Value – Stop producing content for content’s sake. Yes, the web has turned us all into publishers but the content we produce now needs to truly work to justify the time it has taken to create. So take pride in your work, create content that says: “I am pouring my soul into this because I think it really matters” and then let your online audience do the rest.
- Stop begging – Sites that ask you to share their content with action calls that actually say “Share this with all your friends” may feel clever because they are ticking the “call to action” box in creating content, but they are also annoying the hell out of those who want to make up their own mind on what to share and what not to. This includes those annoying pop ups that always have the equivalent of “Do the clever thing and subscribe to our newsletter/RSS/mailing list” in big red letters while smaller bold font gives you the option of saying: “I want to remain uninformed/stupid/in the dark” and not subscribe to whatever they’re offering. Really, that is so transparent it really turns people off.
- Start leading – Don’t wait for people to find your site. Lead the online conversation on the issues that truly matter to your business by starting it, first. At the end of the day it is your business. If you don’t care enough to raise your voice, who will?
The web is changing fast. If you’re still using Google Analytics to count pageviews, maybe you’re not changing fast enough.
Additional Links and Sources
Why Publishers are Killing Pageviews (White Paper)
Defining and Measuring Digital Ad Engagement in a Cross-Platform World
Digital Ad Engagement: An Industry Overview and Reconceptualization (White Paper)