The attention web

What marketers need to know about the attention web

Fifteen seconds. That’s the amount of time the average reader will spend with your content. So here goes.

In 1994, internet pioneer Ken McCarthy determined the click-through to be the measure of digital ad performance. The subsequent dominance of the ‘click’ built many of the major companies of the .com era. But the side-effect of click web-based metrics were plenty – linkbait, spam, terrible design and so on. As a result, the ‘click web’ has been in decline for some time.  Determining what’s happening between clicks is now recognised as a more important KPI.

(By the way, if I’ve still got your attention now then you’re not the average reader.)

In the noughties, the big media players redesigned their sites and began reporting on metrics like pageviews, time-on-page and bounce-rate. Native advertising became a buzzword. Clients no longer wanted only clicks, they wanted your time and attention. Enter the ‘attention web’.

Again, however, the reliability of some attention-based metrics has been called into question with some large players casting doubt over user behaviour data.

So, amid all this uncertainty, here are four insights to take with you into 2019.

1. We don’t necessarily read what we click on

Publishers are heavily focused on click fraud when they should be addressing the fact that a large portion of their audience aren’t reading what some of the primary metrics say they’re reading. As we’ve mentioned, a massive 55% of readers (on average) spend fewer than 15 seconds on a page

The counterpoint to this is that quality will always trump quantity. Articles that give relevant insight into a current topic hold reader attention for up to five times as long as ‘filler content’. So next time you consider posting an article that ‘gets lots of clicks’, consider its relevance for your audience first.

2. The traditional pathway-to-purchase model is evolving 

Most marketers have followed the model of awareness-interest-desire-action (AIDA), with the post-purchase addition of adoption, loyalty and advocacy. This worked well until mobile and social media marketing came along. Now, the pathway to purchase is more of a maze. Today’s consumer touches their mobile device over 150 times per day. This gives marketers plenty of opportunity to engage and start a conversation at the most crucial stages of the buyer journey.

Accessibility is key. Consumers expect to find information on your brand, NOW. Taken in combination with Insight 1, this means being both visible and relevant.

Here are some pointers:

  1. Put reviews front and centre
  2. Amplify your presence on Google
  3. Differentiate on customer experience (not price or shipping)
  4. Align your online and in-store experience

3. Native advertising has peaked

 Native advertising reached its peak last year. With the problems of scale (multiple parties needed in the mix), over-saturation, tightening of disclosure practices, cost of execution and diminishing consumer trust, marketers are starting to put the brakes on native spending. Only 45% of marketers said they planned to use native content this year compared to 50% last year (

Native shouldn’t be ignored. But it requires diligence to ensure readers are blown away with the value they’re getting. Some sites have mastered this, putting a huge amount of effort into creating engaging content that’s bang-on what the reader expects.

At this point, it’s also worth mentioning influencer marketing. It too requires a cautious approach, but when a well-suited influencer delivers high-quality branded content in a way that holds the attention of their audience, that brand can reap major benefits.

In summary

A move to the ‘attention web’ doesn’t necessarily require an overhaul of your marketing approach. But it does require several small shifts in your customer engagement efforts. As a starting point, adjust your metrics to reflect attention and engagement as primary benchmarks. From there you can fine-tune your communications and delivery channels to increase performance.


Publishers are about to hit a wall with native ads