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Seinfeld

Don't misread the title of this article; we're not talking about whether you get so entranced by your trade publications' online analytics that you forget to catch a rerun of your favorite show. As noted by Matt Boggie, writing for World News Publishing Focus, metrics can work against you -- as they very nearly did for the network that might otherwise have passed on a little series called Seinfeld.

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As Boggie tells it, the pilot episode of Seinfeld achieved unimpressive ratings, and the network's research data indicated that the show would never be a hit with a mainstream audience. If not for the efforts of one network executive who was willing to play a hunch about the show's value, Americans might never have seen the 180 episodes that followed (and then kept returning, thanks to reruns and syndication).

When Numbers Deceive

Sometimes metrics just don't tell the truth, or at least not the whole truth. Simply figuring out how to measure audience behaviors across a few different online platforms can prove a handful for any publisher, and more platforms seem to be jockeying for supremacy every day. No one metric standard can possibly hope to interpret all these number streams in a consistent, meaningful way.

To make matters even more complicated, today's readership is no longer time-bound as it once was. Instead of experiencing your publication's content only on your schedule, through regular issues, readers now have the option of crawling your companion websites 24 hours a day. This makes time-based measurements related to the calendar all but useless.

Even the time spent browsing your content doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does. Are readers spending X amount of time on a page because they're enthralled by the content, because they're having trouble parsing it, or because they wandered away from the computer to watch a Seinfeld rerun?

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Which Clicks to Believe?

Obviously, counting clicks and accepting other forms of metric data at face value can put you on the wrong path. But that doesn't mean you can afford to discard that information -- only that you need to be aware of its limitations. Another point is that all clicks are not created equal. For instance, it's hard to misinterpret behavior such as return visits to your publication's website or multiple clicks within it. Clearly, this audience member was intrigued enough to keep coming back and/or explore your other content.

The progress of those internal clicks is another revealing indicator of whether your sales funnel is operating as intended. Did your reader click the link in an article's call to action, spend a healthy amount of time on the landing page that followed, and then opt to fill out a contact form? This progression of metrics can speak volumes about your marketing effectiveness. That's why it's important to observe, not just the numbers, but the story those numbers tell in relation to each other.

Metrics Are Indicators, Not Answers

As we've seen, metrics can lead you down false roads or provide genuinely useful insights that help you reach your trade publication's target audience. But the key word there is "help." Since the wealth of data at your disposal can often confound you with seemingly contradictory information, you cannot regard metrics as a magical panacea for understanding what your readers want. Ultimately, it takes a human being's capacity for fuzzy logic, blind-faith intuition, and innate understanding of other human beings, to read between the lines -- or in this case, the numbers -- and make decisions informed by emotion as well as statistics.

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