Monday, May 12, 2008

What is 'Essential' online?

I've been thinking lately about what sites/apps etc are considered essential by users. Reason being - there are SO MANY sites out there and I think this is a measurement (subjective as it may be) that may assist sorting out what environments resonate well with consumers beyond page impressions, unique users and other standard metrics that often make planning a strategy harder than it needs to be.

Another key reason is differentiation. There are too many similar sites in Australia that require consolidation. The portals are the main area causing this unnecessary clutter by trying to compete in every conceiveable space despite sometimes some of them not being able to bring anything to the table for users or advertisers.

A great metric for 'essential' online is Unique Browser Frequency - ie, how many times on average each user returns each month.

Why is it a good metric? Well ... it's not based on time spent ... which in many instances isn't at all a metric of value as not all sites are designed to keep you as long possible ... many are in/out transactional type sites. Google wouldn't look at session duration/time spent as a metric as they are about quick dissemination of information ... they would look at Unique Browser Frequency.

Google users return 12.85 times per month (source: Neilsen, April 2008), Ninemsn Messenger users return on average 14 times per month.

So what are the other sites in key verticals that have people coming back en masse. Well, I tried to look into this using Neilsen Netview and find the top 20 ... but unfortunately Neilsen doesn't allow users to sort via this metric. Hence, I had to use Neilsen Market Intelligence (which is flawed, admittedly, as all sites that appear have paid for the privalege and it misses a load of sites, especially US ones) ... however for the purpose of this exercise it's the best solution.

Only caveat is that the site must have over 50k users per month (April 2008). The number 1 for UB frequency sites are listed

Sport - Domestic
Swellnet. 188,544 users returning on average 4.49 times per month

Automotive - Domestic
Carsales. 1.6m users returning on average 2.21 times per month

Business/Finance - Domestic
ASX. 1.09m users returning on average 4.95 times per month

Entertainment - Domestic
Habbo Hotel. 195,000 users returning on average 4.37 times per month.

Lifestyle - Domestic
RSVP. 721,656 users returning on average 5.54 times per month. (worth noting Fairfax Digital has 4 of the top 7 Lifestyle sites for engagement with RSVP, Essential Baby and The age and SMG Life&Style)

Magazines - Domestic
Money. 402,349 users returning on average 2.17 times per month.

News and Weather - Domestic
Elders Weather. 280,127 users returning on average 5.35 times per month. ( is number 2 with 4.34m users returning on average 4.42 times per month)

I am not saying this is the answer to solving the engagement riddle - but combine unique browser frequency with unique users and you start to get an idea of both reach and loyalty.

I, for one, think this IS important and often overlooked. I think if you work in media and you are purely looking for reach and audience size you are barely scraping the surface ... our role is to find environments that mean something to our target and find ways of integrating our messages within these in a way that adds value. I think something that is 'essential' ADDS value to advertising messages. For instance, I am more likely to view and consider an ad I see on a site like (which I love) than an ad I see on portal standard Travel site. Why? Because I trust and turn to it for information.

I think moving forward more thought and importance will be put into these 'essential' destinations - seeking them out and finding new ways to utilise them. It's almost vital now - especially when you're faced with 10/20/30 sites with similar content, audiences, and ratecards ... and it's not going to get any easier as it seems the new ethos of the AU digital advertising industry in 2008 is 'if it has eyeballs plonk ads on it regardless of whether it makes sense to users or advertisers'.

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