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Metrics: 5 minutes with… Jo Holdaway

What we measure and how we communicate the results to agencies and clients is critical to publishers’ commercial success. The Independent’s chief data & marketing officer, Jo Holdaway, is chairing the ‘Metrics Tech Talk’, part of the upcoming AOP Publishing Tech Talk event. We grab five minutes with her to talk through some of the issues.

By Jo Holdaway

Metrics: 5 minutes with… Jo Holdaway

Q: What are the challenges publishers face in making audience metrics insightful and actionable?

A: The agencies are still using click through rates as their main metric when measuring the success of a digital advertising campaign. For longer term partnerships, it is easier to share a more diverse set of bespoke metrics, for example, illustrating user attention and engagement or success of creative executions, which can demonstrate more holistically how a campaign has performed. So, I think one challenge to publishers is how to translate these richer, more informative metrics to standard ad campaigns.

Attention is becoming more valued by agencies and some publishers are leading the way in terms of a transformative change in how campaigns are measured and reported on. Publishers are also thinking more about user experience; reducing the amount of code and inventory on the page and seeing better engagement metrics as a result. Another challenge is translating these results into better structured pricing which values the interaction between ad and reader appropriately, as well as the data and targeting capabilities.

Another challenge is highlighting metrics used in the industry that are certainly actionable but not necessarily insightful. Brand safety metrics are an example of this, where data is misrepresented and news publishers lose out in the process.

Q: Where are the gaps in publishers’ audience knowledge and what are publishers doing to plug the gap?

A: Publishers have made great strides in understanding their own readers, particularly those who have declared their data and registered or subscribed to a website. The use of first party DMPs has also meant that the behaviours and interests of previously invisible users on Safari or Firefox browsers are now known.

However, knowledge about users off-platform, on social media providers such as Facebook or Apple, is still sketchy and it is difficult to obtain meaningful information about these readers – frustrating, as they can often be returning loyal users of a publisher’s content. The recent policy change made by Facebook which pushes Instant Article readers who have opted out of tracking back to the publisher’s own website could be seen as an advantageous move in terms of reader data.

Q: Internally, how are publishers using data and metrics to improve performance across their businesses?

A: Data teams work closely with audience teams, reporting in both real time and post publication on the performance of editorial content. Standard data relating to device, referral source, geo, dwell time, article views, etc etc, have long been used to improve website performance. Metrics are being used more often now to attribute engagement and reader behaviours to last viewed content – for example for content leading to registrations and subscriptions. Also using data to analyse where the next recirculation click can come from or what promotional prompt to serve based on a reader’s status.

There is widespread use of data which monitors and scores editorial content on axes of engagement and scale. This is a useful exercise when looking at the type of articles which don’t resonate with the audience, giving the opportunity to move resource to the type of articles and stories which are resonating with their audience.

I think the use of data is becoming a lot more sophisticated when serving the newsroom, and editorial teams are much more data literate and data-informed than ever before. In addition, the demand for and use of data across the whole publishing business is increasing – especially interrogating cross-departmental KPIs through the use of bespoke dashboards.

Q: How can publishers become more data-led organisations and what will be the benefits?

A: A centralised data team can make all the difference when trying to evangelise the use of data in informing business decisions. A single source of truth for all the data sets is also important, so that different teams looking to use the same metrics get the same data points from the same source.

Adoption of data on a widespread scale usually involves transformative cultural shifts, which requires support from board level down throughout the organisation. Providing data that directly helps the business achieve their objectives or to solve problems helps with the adoption, as does education programmes and endless training! Being ruthless in cutting down the data used to the essentials also helps. With the scale of data available, it’s easy to get lost and spend time in analysis that doesn’t actually drive the business forward.

Benefits are wide-ranging – at the very least, business decisions can be made supported by data rather than gut feel – and save time and effort in the long run. I also believe data-informed decisions and analysis can enable publishers to succeed or fail quicker, which is essential in this fast-paced, ever-changing industry.

Q: What are the key metrics as far as advertisers and agencies are concerned and why?

A: Click through rates, reach, brand safety, viewability – agencies need to ensure their campaigns are in a safe environment and are viewable. They also need to prove their campaigns are reaching the right users and in the right volumes. There is a shift to engagement metrics to prove attention and brand recall etc, which is beneficial to the more quality website environments.

Q: What is the current thinking when it comes to trading on scale vs engagement?

A: More publishers are starting to trade on engagement in addition to/rather than scale, as the value of an engaged eyeball is so much higher. Reducing ad volumes on a page in preference to fewer, more viewable and impactful ad slots can yield the same revenue for a publisher, a better UX for the reader and a more efficient buy for an agency. Scale will obviously always be important but I think the ‘quality’ of the end user in terms of targeting, attention or context is becoming more tradable.

Q: What are you hoping to take away from the panel discussion?

A: I’m hoping to illustrate how a publisher can diversify its sales strategy and consider new metrics which can benefit all – publishers, agencies, clients and readers. It does require a change of strategy for many publishers, but with the advent of 3P cookies disappearing completely and more regulatory focus on ad tech and programmatic, this pivot is necessary for the survival of quality publishing.

About us

AOP Publishing Tech Talk provides an essential forum for publishers to catch up with the opportunities that new tech solutions are creating to grow audiences, increase revenues, and benefit their business. Over four days of online content and two days of in-person events, publishers will share how they are innovating and leveraging technology to derive the best value from their first party data and audience metrics, to create more engaging user experiences, and to build premium revenues. More information at