‘Are you still watching?’: How website metrics sell advertising space

Dr. Iqbal
Dr. Razib Iqbal

Has Netflix ever asked you the question, “Are you still watching?” If so, you’ve experienced a small piece of the power of website metrics at work.

Websites use metrics to measure user engagement. When you haven’t clicked on anything in a while, they begin to worry you might not be paying attention anymore.

These metrics can be useful for more than just making sure you do not miss an episode of your favorite show.

Dr. Razib Iqbal, assistant professor of computer science at Missouri State University, studies how website owners use metrics to sell space to advertisers.

The problem

Online advertising is big business. In 2013, revenues reached nearly $43 billion, a 17 percent increase from 2012, according to Iqbal.

To attract advertisers, website owners must have strong data that justifies the price they want to charge. This is where metrics come into play.

One of the most important metrics used when selling advertising space is the duration index. This index shows how much time a user spends on a specific site.

While this data can seem helpful, Iqbal warns that it can often be misleading.

“The duration index cannot measure time away from the computer or when the user switches to a different tab,” said Iqbal. “Because of this, these metrics have some drawbacks.”

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The solution

To address this issue, Iqbal proposed two new metrics in his recent conference paper, “Measuring Actual Visitor Engagement in News Websites.”

Focus ratio tracks the difference between the time a webpage has been open versus the time it is visible on the screen.

Active ratio goes one level deeper to track the difference between the time a webpage is visible on the screen versus the time the user is actually interacting with the page.

This data offers a deeper look into online browsing behavior that was not possible before.

“These metrics help identify the webpages where users spend a lot of time and where they interact with the content most,” said Iqbal. “These pages can then be promoted to potential advertisers at a fair price based on much more reliable data.”

For more information, contact Iqbal at 417-836-4944.

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