In case you've been living under a rock you've probably noticed that the influence of personal style bloggers has grown exponentially the past few years. More and more, brands are forgoing traditional methods of PR and media and instead reaching out to influential bloggers to harness their viral influence and disseminate the brand message. But while the online influence of personal style bloggers is unquestionable, accurately measuring and quantifying that influence is another story.
With the vast amount of data that's available at the click of a mouse--from Google Analytics to Compete to Facebook to Twitter--you'd think measuring a site's online presence would be easy. Not so. Because as Matthew Rhodes, strategy director of social media agency Fresh Networks points out in a recent Financial Times article, looking at page views and unique visitors alone no longer cuts it as an accurate way of measuring a blogger's influence. “Time on a site doesn’t mean influence, necessarily, any more than the volume of traffic does," he said.
Karen Robinovitz of social media marketing agency Digital Brand Architects agrees. She outlines a method of measuring online influence that's far more complex than you might expect. "It is a mix of page views, uniques, social following but also how engaged a blogger's audience is," she said in an email. "Someone may have 50,000 fans on Facebook but if most of their content is not receiving comments, likes and engagement, the platform is not truly influential. It is also quality of content, integrity of content, whether or not the blogger's audience actually takes action and clicks and converts. Someone may not have high traffic but has high engagement and that is more important than just reach alone."
"Engagement" is the key term as far as Robinovitz is concerned and indeed, it seems to be the new buzz word in the industry. Though measuring page views, unique visitors and Facebook likes is simple, accurately quantifying reader engagement is far trickier. For instance, as Sasha Wilkins, who pens the blog Liberty London Girl, explains to the Financial Times, a large amount of comments on one site doesn't necessarily equal the same amount of engagement on another. “If you take a blog like, say, the very popular Cupcakes & Cashmere, there are hundreds of comments from readers on it but they mean nothing as most of them are one or two words, with a link back to the commentator’s blog," she says. "They mean nothing in terms of influence and are a simple reflection of her high traffic. But if you look at the comments on other major blogs, they can be mini essays. These comments, though fewer in number, are worth far more.”
So if comments and page views don't necessarily mean reader engagement (and therefore influence) then what does? For Joyn, a digital marketing consultancy firm, it's about linkage. According to the Financial Times, the company bases a site's online presence on "the numbers of inbound links, ie links from external websites to the influencer’s website, and on links from 'key peer group' users, often in the fashion industry, who are themselves perceived to be 'influencers' and who in Joyn’s system boost a blogger’s influence ratings."
"[Links] factor into how we assess a blogger's influence because it speaks to the relevance of the blogger's taste, content and opinions," Robinovitz told us. "The more people who link back to a blog, the more people are sharing what the blogger is saying which also drives SEO for the blog, making it maximized for search, easier to find and thus, more influential as well."
However, finding out how many sites in total link to a blogger's post is, obviously, not that easily measured. Joyn uses a tool called "Linkfluence," and there are certainly other companies that offer a similar service, but the data is not necessarily easy to attain, nor readily understood, by the average citizen.
Regardless, Robinovitz says you have to look at the bigger picture when it comes to understanding a blogger's reach. "All of these things have to be considered," she said, speaking about the multitude of factors--from page views, to comments, to inbound links--that contribute to DBA's assessment of a blogger's influence.
A 360-degree approach is particularly vital in an age where the number of web analytic tools available has grown exponentially--and so has any given blogger's ability and incentive to manipulate or misreport them. Jezebel did their own investigation on the page views of blogs The Man Repeller, BryanBoy, SusieBubble, and The Glamourai and found that the numbers previously reported in a WWD story had been "vastly inflated" according to Compete and Quantcast. Whether the numbers were misreported by the industry paper or the individual bloggers we can't be sure--but it's just as likely that Compete and Quantcast are inaccurate measures of traffic and influence.