Meaningful engagement is a better metric than reach for advertisers

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Media and their advertising clients have, in the past, always pursued “big numbers.” Advertisers love big numbers so they can report success back to their clients. Same goes for many other areas of life, e.g. for me this initiative perhaps.

In the digital world, chasing big numbers (reach) can be deceptive as at the end of the day, it’s not about how many visit your Web site that matters. It’s what the reader does when he or she lands there. 

It’s not hard to pick a relevant subject matter and, by using SEO, optimise key phrases to maximise the potential reach. It is essentially then writing for an algorithm chiefly and only writing for the person second. 

Reach can translate into nothing more than a large number. The overall engagement metrics of the bounce rate, session time, and pages per visit are all negatively impacted. And, of course, it’s these metrics that give the real value of a specific audience to our advertisers. 

Attracting new readers could be judged as engagement, but what matters most is not just engagement but instead meaningful engagement. Are they leaving you observations/comments? Are they venturing into other content. Are they taking out a subscription? And are they clicking on ads? 

Podcasts are an example of how the reach vs. engagement metric can be misleading at the surface.
Podcasts are an example of how the reach vs. engagement metric can be misleading at the surface.

A good example is the area of podcasts. 

My radio show/podcast in the UK is listened to by up to 2.5k SMEs each month in London and the southeast of England, which when compared with the 30k+ listeners who visit the Web site of the channel on which we were born out of seems small at first glance. But that’s only if you look at this in terms of reach. Is that the best metric? The average engagement time is more like the 37 minutes per visit. 

Visiting a Web site is, in theory, an engagement. It’s a conscious decision by the listener to click on a link that diverts them to our Web site. The average engagement time of those 3k+ channel users is far less (20 minutes), according to our measurement analytics. 

The average listen-through rate of our radio podcasts is 75% with our podcasts lasting up to one hour. That equates to a listener being engaged with our radio content for a maximum of 45 minutes. This represents business people who are invested enough in our radio content to give us 45 minutes per week.

That’s a huge amount of time in today’s attention economy landscape, as we discussed in our recent INMA Webinar on the topic.

That figure is, of course, an maximum average (depending on a given week’s length) per episode, and we can broadcast up to four or even five per month. 

As an advertiser, what is better? A 30k audience with an average session of under 20 minutes or a highly engaged and focused audience of 2,500 people who spend literally hours of their own time per month engaged with us? In the comparative of this newsletter, we have approximately 1,300 readers (INMA members) who have voluntarily signed up for this newsletter every fortnight. When you add the engagement of things like master classes, Webinars, etc., the numbers might appear to one limited, but, importantly, the engagement is huge. 

Something I am sure gives us a great conversation to be had with our advertisers and agencies. 

Very often the most difficult part of any salesperson tasked with selling advertising space or sponsorship is convincing the possible buyer that reach is not always the metric they should be concentrated on, even though it’s very often the first thing they ask for because of the perception of the importance of a big number. 

Creating big numbers to woo media buyers has been a factor in the past, but it’s time we stopped just talking about reach so much and begin to focus on robust metrics that actually work for us as well as our ad clients. 

INMA members are telling me CTRs are up across the ad categories — direct ad sales campaign results in particular are seeing the highest increases in those CTRs. I guess this is not a shock as they are campaigns targeting the most engaged audience, and we embrace creativity more as a way of “upping the ante.”

But chasing big numbers alone is for things like ad agency industry awards dinners, for proclaiming to agency clients as a mark of achievement and an old and (to be fair, in many modern, forward-looking agencies for instance) dying, false perception measure.

The new dawn is all about attention and engagement. Get onboard. Start the conversation. Lead the charge. 

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Mark Challinor

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