Benchmarks help media companies measure their digital footprint against competitors

By Shelley Seale

INMA

Austin, Texas, USA

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How have your competitors been faring through COVID-19, and how has your position changed in relation to them and the wider market?

On Wednesday, INMA members participated in a Webinar presented by Jellyfish Vice President of Publishing Carola York and Vice President of Analytics Alex Davies. They showcased the key metrics every senior publishing executive should look at in relation to the market, the competition, and the digital media landscape, as well as performance metrics for their own site.

Jellyfish helps brands understand their Digital IQ and benchmark it against their competition.
Jellyfish helps brands understand their Digital IQ and benchmark it against their competition.

Jellyfish helps brands understand their digital “IQ” relative to their competition using an apples-to-apples data comparison. When Jellyfish considers the different data sets available, Davies said they look at four key areas:

  • On app and Web site.
  • Media-specific data.
  • Business and capacity data.
  • Wider economy data.

This Webinar focused mostly on the third, business and capacity data.

“As a publisher, you really need to understand what’s going on out there in the world. Shifts in consumer behaviour really affect your brand position — but more importantly, your competitors’ brand position,” York said.

Through the COVID-19 crisis, she added, things have fluctuated wildly. “My question to you as publishers is, do you actually know how your direct competitors have been faring through COVID?”

Most publishers track their own key metrics and position in the marketplace, but they may not have as much insight as to where they sit in relation to their competitors and whether they are gaining or losing market share.

“Are you actually looking at the right comparable data?” she asked INMA members.

Industry metrics

The Jellyfish IQ product puts all that data into a true comparison so publishers can make sure they are looking at the data objectively and using it to make the right decisions. It does this by benchmarking a publisher’s business performance against its competitors in 14 different industry metrics (12 are listed below).

In that analysis, Davies said there are four specific pillars that are critically important:

  • Category and brand growth.
  • Channels, both paid and earned.
  • Technical — speed and usability.
  • Engagement — duration and consumption.

“When we’re reading these reports, it’s incredibly important to look at two key aspects,” Davies said. “One is the directional trend, and the other is the magnitude.”

They want to know if the directional trend is going up, static, or in decline. Magnitude tells them in a rough percentage what that growth or decline is. Because much of the data comes from third-party sources, it’s vital that publishers benchmark their own first-party data against category insight to gauge uplift.

1. Net category growth

“The first important metric that we find that’s crucial to monitor over time is the net category growth,” Davies said. This looks at the traffic to key news publishers across the globe collectively, allowing them to analyse movements in traffic share over time and identify competitors who are growing faster or losing share.

Sharing these figures month-on-month over the last four months, this traffic growth was:

  • March 2020: +21.28%.
  • April 2020: +5.99%.
  • May 2020: -16.67%.
  • June 2020: -5.44%.

“Everybody’s news sites have seen tremendous growth,” York explained. “That peak was huge, but you can see now that we’ve headed back to the levels of normality again on a global scale.” There are some differences by country, she said, but on an overall global scale, these are the trends.

“That’s the key point with this — not to just be tracking the general numbers. It’s where are you sitting in relation to that? Did I actually do some really good things? Have I kept some of that growth, and is it going to help me going forward?” Or, York ventured, has a competitor taken some of that growth away and you are in decline?

2. Net category engagement

Traffic is one thing, Davies said, but the engagement of those visitors is what’s most important. “It’s so important to correlate different metrics together to get a better understanding as to what is happening. One report in isolation can be dangerous. But when you’re mixing these together, you start to get a better understanding of what is happening in the marketplace.”

Jellyfish looked at global engagement numbers over the past four months:

  • March 2020: -0.25%.
  • April 2020: -9.1%.
  • May 2020: +21.7%.
  • June 2020: +3.61%.

“What’s interesting is we can see there was a significant decline in actual readability, so in actual visits per session, in April. However, despite traffic declining back to almost pre-COVID numbers, we’ve seen that engagement has actually skyrocketed,” Davies said. “So it’s really important to understand how you’re performing in terms of engagement relative to the average benchmark.”

Customer engagement metrics should be interpreted along with bounce rate and site speed.
Customer engagement metrics should be interpreted along with bounce rate and site speed.

3. Net category by device

Jellyfish then breaks down that engagement by device. They have seen desktop has remained fairly static, while mobile has seen significant growth in engagement.

The mobile engagement over the past four months globally was:

  • March 2020: -3.07%.
  • April 2020: -8.14%.
  • May 2020: +44.33%.
  • June 2020: +4.78%.

“It’s important to understand the device and the context behind it and what is bringing that [engagement] up — because that could be for a few reasons,” Davies added. These could be lockdown or more people on the move out of lockdown, people consuming content but in a different way, or other factors.

4. Traffic share

A metric that is incredibly important to monitor, Davies said, is isolating key competitors and benchmarking them against your brand.

By creating a category with key competition, Jellyfish can analyse movements in traffic share over time and identify shifts and changes in consumer behaviours. Again here, they look at directional trends and magnitude of growth.

“Keeping a close eye on this is really important,” Davies said, particularly as publishers emerge from COVID-19 and enter new normalcy.

5. Brand demand

“Having a very good understanding of your brand, over time, has increased or is decreasing is an incredible proxy for awareness and consideration,” Davies said. “This is a great way to have a quick snapshot in time to see if people are surging to your brand or not.”

Over time, this correlates into direct traffic. If brand is declining, there is a heavy reliance on direct traffic, Davies explained. That becomes an alarm bell because acquisition sources need to be diversified.

“If you’re looking at just your own brand in isolation, that can be a very dangerous thing. You need context metrics to understand performance relative to the wider economy. Plotting your competition and understanding any significant peaks and troughs or shifts in trends becomes really important to do.”

6. Organic search visibility

This is a common metric in the marketplace and is an amalgamation of three key factors:

  • Demand
  • Keyword positioning
  • Estimated CTR

This allows a brand to establish a visibility score over time, which gives a good understanding as to how visible the brand is on the landscape. This will categorically correlate with SEO traffic as well.

When Google ranks a Web site, it is analysing a range of signals around relevance, authority, trust, and user experience. These are highly valuable proxies, making performance across a range of organic search metrics more useful than a simple channel view. It’s also particularly important to monitor after Google algorithm changes.

7. Domain authority

This is another common metric that is a significant ranking factor for Google. Understanding a site’s domain authority compared to competitors is a good reflection of the link qualities the site already possesses and the ability to rank well.

“It’s more of a sense check, sanity metric,” Davies said. “Making sure your domain authority is high or at least in alignment with your competition to make sure you’re not on a back foot when it comes to trying to rank with SEO content.”

8. Social footprint

Social follower numbers are a topline-only guide and can be influenced directly by social media spend. Taken in context, however, they help us understand where competitors are achieving success, and at a deeper level we can analyse that data to report on relative brand sentiment and engagement.

Segmenting social traffic in an analytics platform is important because it’s helpful in understanding a brand’s social footprint. Is any particular channel increasing or decreasing over time?

“The second component of this would be overlaying with your GA [Google Analytics] data or your Adobe data to understand whether the engagements and CDR are also increasing over time,” Davies said.

Bringing first-party data into the mix also enables a brand to see at what rate its social footprint growing relative to its engagement.

“You don’t want to just bring in unengaged audiences, because obviously they’re not right for the product or the market,” Davies said. “The aim is bringing in the right audience, and that audience correlates directly to your first-party data.”

York added that one way she has seen this metric work very well is for brands that are not just selling subscriptions but also other things such as events or products. The social audience may be subscription-oriented, but they may also be much more likely to buy other product offerings and brand extensions.

“You can market through those channels to those people, but it’s far more important to be getting them coming back through to your site and linking everything up together so you can really understand what is your social audience actually bringing to you as a business,” she said.

9. Paid search visibility

Competitive Search Share can be a barometer for competitor spend. Fluctuations in paid visibility often result from budget increases or cuts, as well as market changes.

“When you see significant fluctuations, especially in short bursts, that is normally due to an increase n direct spend in a paid channel,” Davies said. “What you’ll often find is that brands start to ramp up quite heavily if they’re losing direct traffic for whatever reason.”

He said there are two ways to measure this: with paid search visibility, or by using a tool that tracks traffic to a competitor’s Web site. The latter offers a better understanding if there is a significant increase, it’s likely due to an increase in spend.

A traffic source analysis brings it all together: numbers, engagement, and comparison.
A traffic source analysis brings it all together: numbers, engagement, and comparison.

10. Traffic source analysis

This really summarises it all together, Davies said. “The importance of grouping all this together over a slightly longer period of time, let’s say 24 months, allows you to see the channel diversity between your brand and competitors.”

This metric looks at where a Web site’s traffic is coming from, and benchmarks it against the competition. Who has more of a reliance on organic versus paid sources? What does this reveal about competitors’ acquisition strategies?

Davies recommends looking at these figures once a month or at least once per quarter. “Have a snapshot on the channel mix, and where competitors are spending or acquiring their traffic from.”

11. Site speed

Bounce rates, conversion rates, and engagement often correlate closely with Web site speed, both desktop and mobile. It also reveals the technical competency of a brand. Fortunately, there are easy ways to bring down site speeds.

“Evaluating load times over time is really important,” Davies said, again suggesting once per month, by mobile and desktop.

12. Traffic breakdown by device

Mobile presents very different opportunities and challenges from desktop. Analysis of traffic share by device versus the competition can shed light on competitors’ strategies and begin to highlight who is best at meeting this challenge. This them allows a company to focus more on customer experience indicators, which are unique to the devices from which the most traffic is being gained.

During and coming out of COVID-19, Davies said that there has been more time spend on desktop as people are less on the move, but overall, mobile is faster growing.

Digital footprint comparison against competitors allows a brand to know where it stands in the market.
Digital footprint comparison against competitors allows a brand to know where it stands in the market.

Why does it matter?

All of this allows a brand to find out where it stands against its competition by:

  • Giving brands a clear picture of their consumer experience and perception with an apples-to-apples comparison.
  • Showcasing key strategic opportunities within your digital ecosystem and competitive landscape.
  • Offering clear measurements for future benchmarking.
  • Supporting future digital strategy.

“It’s really about giving you some data that is objective,” York concluded. “Putting your performance against your competitors in a wider market so that you really know, are you going the right direction? Are there other opportunities?”

Banner image courtesy of Pete Linforth and superintelligencek from Pixabay

About Shelley Seale

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