What Has Multitasking Got to do with Attention Analytics?

If there’s one thing that everyone does, or at least attempts to do, it’s multi-task.

We’re pretty much all guilty of juggling a thousand and one different tasks at a time, rather than focusing on just one alone. This is especially true when it comes to the internet.

I don’t know about you, but I always have tens of tabs open at one time, and flit from page to page. This often means that I never actually end up reading or focusing on half of them.

Indeed, many experts have commented on the rise of internet multi- tasking. The Financial Times recently published a comprehensive study weighing up the pros and cons of multi-tasking. The article quoted psychologist and Harvard professor Shelley Carson who argues, ‘what we’re often calling multitasking is in fact internet addiction’.

There’s probably some truth in this statement. However, whether or not you believe multitasking to be unhelpful, or even dangerous, it is a behavioural pattern which cannot be ignored.

What has this got to do with Attention Analytics?

This means that Google Analytics’s current metrics for measuring the successfulness of your website may not actually helpful, because they don’t indicate the time a person actually spends reading your content, only loading it.

Say your articles have an average time on page of 20 minutes. This becomes significantly less impressive if most people had it open in a tab whilst they browsed Facebook, messaged a friend or even grabbed a coffee.

Needless to say, it’s probably not best to make business decisions based on misleading analytics such as these!

But what if there was a better way? A way to measure the exact amount of attention that someone pays to your content. Wouldn’t it be great if you could make decisions on what to write based on what your users actually enjoyed and interacted with?

This is where Attention Analytics comes in.

By measuring a number of user actions, we are able to fully understand how people are interacting with the content and whether or not they are paying attention to it.

So, how exactly do we measure attention at Metric Mogul?

Well, our analytics is set up to track the following user actions, which imply someone is actively engaging with our content:

  • When an element gets focus e.g. a text input box
  • When the page gets scrolled
  • When an element gets clicked on
  • When the mouse gets moved
  • When there is a touch on a touch- screen surface
  • When a touch point is moved off the interactive area of an element
  • When there is a touch move
  • When a video is playing

It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a much more accurate measure than the default metrics in Google Analytics.

Once we know that a user is performing any of these actions, we know we have their attention, and start a timer. When they stop, we stop the timer. At periodic intervals this attention data is sent to Google Analytics for storage and reporting.

We aren’t just tracking the fact someone started playing a video like you would with standard event tracking. Instead we are measuring the number of seconds they spent active on the page (known because they did any one of the actions above), and sending this information to Google Analytics, giving us an entirely new metric within the interface: Attention Time.

And because this metric is within Google Analytics, you can break it down by all the standard dimensions, like page, device category and medium.

Why? So you can answer questions such as:

  • Do mobile users spend longer reading my content than tablet users?
  • Which articles are getting lots of views due to ranking well, but aren’t as engaging as they should be and need a re-write?
  • How long do people spend reading our landing pages (something Google Analytics won’t tell you if the majority of people bounce)?
  • What topics does my blog audience love, and what should I write more of to grow my readership?

We’ve already found that there is a major difference between our own attention data and the flawed time on page and session duration metrics in Google Analytics. If we didn’t have our own stats, we might make the wrong decisions about how to optimise our website.

Summary

  • The rise of multitasking or internet addiction makes measuring site engagement a challenge, especially for content sites where people regularly only view on page.
  • Measuring key on-page actions can be used as a proxy for engagement, and used to calculate an Attention Time metric, which is superior to Google’s own Time on Page metric.
  • Setting up Google Analytics in this way will help you better understand your audience, how your website is performing, what pages you need to optimise, and what type of content you need to write more of.

Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts on attention analytics.

Ed Brocklebank is the founder of Metric Mogul, a digital analytics consultancy. He helps business of all sizes become more data-driven through marketing technology. He runs training for General Assembly London on Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.