Which Do You Prefer, Users or Readers?

A tweet from Jarvis this morning led to a short column in the Guardian that should be a useful corrective to a B2B audience worried about search-engine optimization (SEO).

For many in B2B media, the most important Web site metric is the total number of users. As quoted in the column, Matt Kelly of the Daily Mirror riffs on the pointlessness of this metric for special-interest newspaper sites. The quest for ever-increasing numbers of unique users, he said, “values one visit from one random Google News user as highly as daily visits, for an hour a time, from someone who treasures the content we produce.”

Instead of fretting about building up the number of random users, Kelly argued, special-interest newspaper sites should focus on building an engaged audience of appropriate readers. The SEO mantra for B2B sites should be the same: readers, not users; better, not bigger. The key metrics should be things like time spent on the site, number of pages read, and percentage of returning users.

The biggest impediment to changing the numbers-driven mindset is probably B2B advertisers. Until they can be educated to look for quality rather than quantity—something they do regularly for their print efforts—it will be difficult for publishers to avoid the numbers trap.