mouse clickAs a content publisher, you’re probably tracking the number of clicks to your content, the clicks visitors to your content are making once they arrive, and where clicks to your content are coming from. Content analytics are all about the click, but content consumption analysis is about a lot more than clicks.

New research from dutch researchers Irene Costera Meijer and Tim Groot Kormelink, Checking, Sharing, Clicking and Linking: Changing Patterns of News Use Between 2004 and 2014, uses ethnography to analyze how people actually consume news, not just how they claim to consume news in surveys.

Anthropologist Ken Anderson described ethnography for the Harvard Business Review as follows:

“Ethnography is the branch of anthropology that involves trying to understand how people live their lives. Unlike traditional market researchers, who ask specific, highly practical questions, anthropological researchers visit consumers in their homes or offices to observe and listen in a nondirected way. Our goal is to see people’s behavior on their terms, not ours. While this observational method may appear inefficient, it enlightens us about the context in which customers would use a new product and the meaning that product might hold in their lives.”

In other words, Meijer and Kormelink analyzed real behaviors to determine how news consumption has changed over the past decade. They identified 16 news consumption practices, including clicking, that should be analyzed to get a full understanding of how consumers consume news:

  1. Reading
  2. Watching
  3. Viewing
  4. Listening
  5. Checking
  6. Snacking
  7. Scanning
  8. Monitoring
  9. Searching
  10. Clicking
  11. Linking
  12. Sharing
  13. Liking
  14. Recommending
  15. Commenting
  16. Voting

Each practice affects the level of engagement with news content. For example, reading is considered to be an in-depth activity where a person is trying to not just know what the news is but to actually understand it. On the other hand, viewing and listening are typically secondary activities (e.g., listening to the news while you’re driving your car or watching the news on television while making dinner). Therefore, the information provided is less likely to be remembered.

Furthermore, the proliferation of mobile devices has added new practices, including “checking” where people habitually check their mobile phones or email and consume news as a result. The intent in a “checking” activity is very different than the intent in a “reading” activity, so naturally, the engagement level will reflect that intent.

Considering the above, it’s clear that simply tracking clicks as a metric to determine the success of your content isn’t enough. The study authors also note that it’s important to track the practice of not clicking. Just because a person doesn’t click on a link doesn’t mean they haven’t scanned the headline of the content or an excerpt via social media or through a curator or aggregator.

Bottom-line, the click only tells a small part of the story in terms of content performance. In the report, Meijer and Kormelink explain, “The interests of news users may not be captured by clicks. For instance, checking, snacking, and scanning do not necessitate a click. This means that journalists and journalism scholars would do well to part with click metrics as a sound standard for the level of interest or importance attached to a news item.” This suggestion applies to all content publishers, not just traditional news publishers.

What do you think?

Image: Roxie Rampage licensed CC BY-SA 2.0