Sharing ≠ Reading

 What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong 

If you’re an average reader, I’ve got your attention for 15 seconds, so here goes: We are getting a lot wrong about the web these days. We confuse what people have clicked on for what they’ve read. We mistake sharing for reading. We race towards new trends like native advertising without fixing what was wrong with the old ones and make the same mistakes all over again.

Not an average reader? Maybe you’ll give me more than 15 seconds then. As the CEO of Chartbeat, my job is to work with the people who create content online (like Time.com) and provide them with real-time data to better understand their readers. I’ve come to think that many people have got how things work online quite mixed up.

Here’s where we started to go wrong: In 1994, a former direct mail marketer called Ken McCarthy came up with the clickthrough as the measure of ad performance on the web. From that moment on, the click became the defining action of advertising on the web. The click’s natural dominance built huge companies like Google and promised a whole new world for advertising where ads could be directly tied to consumer action.

However, the click had some unfortunate side effects. It flooded the web with spam, linkbait, painful design and tricks that treated users like lab rats. Where TV asked for your undivided attention, the web didn’t care as long as you went click, click, click.

In 20 years, everything else about the web has been transformed, but the click remains unchanged, we live on the click web. But something is happening to the click web. Spurred by new technology and plummeting click-through rates, what happens between the clicks is becoming increasingly important and the media world is scrambling to adapt. Sites like the New York Times are redesigning themselves in ways that place less emphasis on the all-powerful click. New upstarts like Medium and Upworthy are eschewing pageviews and clicks in favor of developing their own attention-focused metrics. Native advertising, advertising designed to hold your attention rather than simply gain an impression, is growing at an incredible pace.


Tony Haile is the CEO of Chartbeat, a data analytics company that counts Time.com and more than 4,000 top publishers and brands as its clients.


 

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