January 22, 2024 , in technology


New Dimensions in Attention Metrics

The interaction between digital advertising and the audience can be measured across several dimensions. But which ones really reflect the success of the campaign? We look at new thinking in attention metrics.

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Attention metrics | Eidosmedia

We are living in the attention economy. Advertisers pay for the attention of readers and viewers and this is the basis of the digital advertising industry. By 2026, the U.S. is expected to become the first major media market to see digital newspaper ad revenue surpass print newspaper ad revenue.

Unlike conventional advertising, digital campaigns generate a wealth of data about the target audience's response — and while data is very helpful in understanding a campaign’s performance, it can also be overwhelming.

In this article we'll look at commonly used audience metrics and new alternatives that are emerging. Which dimensions are key to evaluating the success of a campaign? Which ones should publishers seek to promote?

Common attention metrics

For much of the history of digital advertising, campaign metrics have focused on impressions and clicks. It’s no coincidence that these metrics are tied to pricing. Many publishers sell advertising based on the number of clicks or impressions they drive for an advertiser. However, over the years, people discovered that these metrics are often imperfect and don’t always tell the whole story.

A person can scroll past an ad and see it without paying actual attention to the content of the ad. Fraudulent ad practices like click-spamming generate user clicks without any corresponding user interaction. The rise of attention metrics is a reaction by advertisers to measure more meaningful interactions and avoid click-based fraud.

Measuring 'attention'

But what exactly is 'attention' and how can it be measured? An increased interest in attention metrics has led the industry to try to make more sense of this sometimes nebulous idea. In February 2023, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) hosted its first Measurement Leadership Summit to standardize attention metrics. The International News Media Association (INMA) outlines three key components of attention metrics:

  • Attention includes metrics such as video views, pageviews, bounce rates, and the total time spent on a website.
  • Engagement includes metrics such as clicks, content shares, e-mail response rates, and comments.
  • Retention includes metrics such as the measure of how long people stay on websites before either returning, or leaving for good.

While these newer ideas may be a more nuanced way of looking at campaign success, attention, engagement, and retention are still high-level ideas that can be measured using a number of more granular metrics. The tracking of many of these elements is possible because of the introduction of eye-tracking software, which uses front-facing cameras on devices to measure what people are looking at and for how long. Let’s explore those, as outlined by The Drum.

New dimensions of attention

  • In-view time — This requires publishers to measure how much time a user “spends viewing an ad once at least 50% of its pixels are in view.” Clearly, the more time an ad spends in view, the better. As The Drum points out, “For brand awareness campaigns, the focus for programmatic bidding should be toward high in-view placements, aiming for a viewability rate of 60% to 70%.”
  • Exposure time — This metric is slightly more complicated. Exposure time not only takes into consideration how long a user spends seeing something, it also measures how long the user stays on the site and what they do while there. According to The Drum, this metric gauges “how successful the ad was in getting its message across, how well ads are performing and gives brands an indication of how much voice they had in the internet space.”
  • Hover rate — It’s possible to track how long a consumer’s mouse cursor hovers over an ad on a desktop display. “Because eyeball movements are closely correlated with mouse movements, the higher the hover rate the more likely it is that users were actively watching the ad and paying attention to it,” according to The Drum.
  • Touch rate (mobile) — Digital ads are increasingly mobile. Touch rate measures “the mobile equivalent of the desktop hover rate and measures the percentage of impressions touched.”
  • Screen real estate — This metric tells advertisers how much space on a screen is available for display on a site, including where on the page the ads are located and their size relative to the screen. “It measures the share of space the brand was present in against the entire screen,” reports The Drum. “The larger the percentage the more likely users will notice and pay attention to the ad.”

These measurements can give advertisers a fuller picture of whether audiences pay attention to — and interact with — their ads. Understanding which ads are compelling people to linger longer can help advertisers understand which ads are working and which ads may be most likely to compel viewers to take the next desired action. That allows advertisers to better understand how to go beyond attention to drive an emotional response, which is important in its own right. According to Neurons, “The emotional response triggered by a product is a better predictor of purchasing behavior than any other factor."

Advice on attention metrics for news publishers

As the focus on attention metrics grows, news publishers are poised to capitalize on this trend. This shift in focus is influenced, at least in part, by the deprecation of the third-party cookie. As tracking individual actions becomes more difficult, advertisers are looking to other metrics to help them evaluate campaign success. Publishers who can attract highly engaged users who pay attention to ads will be able to charge a premium as attention metrics continue to gain traction.

The importance of the user experience

"In an age of seemingly endless choice, it can be tough for publishers and broadcasters to stand out," notes Teads. In an piece on Attracting and Retaining High-Attention Audiences they recommend prioritizing the user experience (UX) to ensure “media companies can foster deeper loyalty and trust.”

The UX is also the focus of NPR’s audience-first approach as described in a recent article from Digital Content Next. Publishers can uphold high standards and help advertisers craft better ad experiences that benefit everyone, ultimately leading to better completion rates, click-through rates, and more.

Adding contextual relevance can drive even deeper attention. MediaPost found publishers that implement contextual targeting experienced a 10% surge in dwell time and a 5% uptick in CTR.

Contextually aware ads that emphasize quality over quantity benefit everyone in the digital ad ecosystem. Publishers who can afford to prioritize these values when working with advertisers can expect it to pay dividends in the long run.


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