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We notice the things we think about, we overlook the rest. Say you're buying a car and are looking at a 3 Series Sedan from BMW. I know, nice! Suddenly, you start seeing the 3 Series everywhere. Now that I think about it, I saw a couple just the other day. See? Because we pay attention, we tend to see what we're thinking about.

The reality is that we are often thinking about many things at once. It's not even multitasking - they call it continuous partial attention. That is a state in which most of one's attention is on a primary task, but where one is also monitoring several background tasks just in case something more important or interesting comes up.
We browse the Web that way, too. You set out to find something, hit the search button, and lo,lots of background information and links that take you to different destinations. How is a marketer to measure your attention, then?
WebMetricsGuru Marshall Sponder takes you to the streets of New York to explain.
Depending on your purpose - and the purpose of your customers - your attention will be broken down differently. Let's take a look at how a Web analyst looks at the information. He writes:

If my purpose is to transverse - to get from one place to another quickly - then gazing for a micro second might be considered "engagement" and tracked as such. But this would generate any immediate action - nothing happened this day - though I may act on it at some future time, like next week.
If I saw something, like a store front and liked it and came back at a later time, I'd be much more likely to transact, or do something.
This means that engagement for the same individual/ same segment needs to be tracked over time - it's much harder to make any sense of it from a single session - and that's often what we're trying to do in Web Analytics.
It's actually an "interruption" of my "pace" or gait that really marks that I was engaged - my engagement here is the fact that my attention on the street went from 20% to 40% for a moment - and that marked some interest in my part of what I was looking at.
In other words, attention is marked by an alteration in pace of my gait, of my "click-stream", movement, etc.

Online behavior is not typically measured that way. As Marshall says, web analysts currently take all of the paid (SEM) and organic (SEO) search data and compile it in a report that tries to make something useful out of it. Some days it probably feels like divining tea leaves - a marketer sees what they wish to see in it.
I was thinking of his story when I searched for the new 3 Series Sedan. Let's say that your customer searches for "sedan". This is a general key word and is just like the brisk walk he describes.
The normal behavior for someone putting in these terms is to quickly transverse search listings, the point may not be to stay at any particular site - just to find something relevant.

If I apply Marshall's logic to that, the way to measure attention in Search Behavior would be to track those people who start at generalized search, like sedan or silver sedan, and end up on a much more detailed keyword phase, for example "reviews of new silver sedans".
Now you can say, with some authority, if the same searcher came to and put in the search "new sedans" then later, came back and put in the query "reviews of new silver sedans" that searcher is engaged, she is definitely paying attention with an action in mind.
If this happens in the same search session, that works. But, continues Marshall, we need to begin tracking those searches across sessions. That presents challenges. His conclusion:
So while thinking about "attention" and if it really is "engagement", it's more like breaking browsing behavior and search behavior into basic types of activity - and then, measuring the attention span based on that kind of activity, probably against an average.

The good news is that all of our behavior online is trackable and we are just skimming the surface. As we continue to make strides in interpreting all of the data we collect (see my review of The Numerati for more on that), some of the answers will become indeed clearer.
If as marketers we were able to track and measure attention as outlined in the example, we'd be much closer to understanding when our customers are ready for a purchase. We would also be much better equipped on having the appropriate copy and information on the page when they land there.
Now back to looking at that marvelous feat of engineering that is the new 3 Series from BMW. Are you with me? Who's buying?

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Valeria Maltoni helps businesses understand how customers and communities have changed marketing, public relations, and communications - and how to build value in this new environment. As a communicator she specializes in marketing communications, customer dialogue, and brand management. Valeria has come to define modern business as a long and open conversation. Conversation Agent is recognized among the world's top online marketing blogs. Valeria is a Fast Company expert blogger and a contributor to The Blog Herald. She is a co-author of , a groundbreaking ebook collaboration by 103 of today's top marketing writers. Valeria is a frequent public speaker on brand marketing, customer service, and building successful business teams. She publishes in both English and Italian. Educated at the University of Bologna and Villanova University, Valeria combines New World sensibilities with Italian style. She's an active member of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the American Marketing Association (AMA), the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia (WACA), and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).