Google recently made a change to the way it displays metrics. If you look closely enough, you'll find that for many people, the "+1's" on your Google Plus profiles have been replaced by a view counter.
From Google's side of the table, displaying views instead of +1's makes sense. It's certainly more in line with the way LinkedIn, Facebook and other social sites show counters on your content, and opens up an opportunity to more easily market its new Promoted Posts service, which gives them a social media advertising platform to offer brands.
For marketers, though, the switch isn't quite as simple as it might seem. In fact, it could have big effects on the way marketers and content creators think about the effectiveness of their posts on what is quite possibly a hollow metric: impressions. While it's been standard practice for traditional marketing/advertising channels (and their ad agencies) to measure impressions over returns, focusing on easily visible view counts stands to create a new challenge to online efforts that was previously only an issue in the traditional world.
The Immediate Consequences of the View Swap
As you can probably tell, I'm not a supporter of displaying views on profiles or content. I feel it simply places an inappropriate amount of weight on something that doesn't really matter a lot. For one thing, early users of Google+ who are reasonably active are likely to have far more page views than their newer counterparts, regardless of how interesting or compelling their content actually is. And for others, the attraction to post more frequently – just to increase their view count – usually leads to lower quality and poor engagement, not to mention killing ROI. All just to bulk up the numbers.
More to the point, though, without any further context – and without studying the results those views have generated – the number itself is meaningless at best, and deceiving at worst. This really takes us back to the old days of billboard advertising, where the goal was to count the number of passing vehicles and approximate the number of views based on an assumed multiple (Gross Rating Points). Whether or not passers-by responded to the advertisement was something else entirely, but the assumption was that more views would equal more business.
That point of view didn't necessarily hold true in the traditional world, and it certainly doesn't make sense now, when competitors are displaying their ads, content, and profiles right next to yours - good or bad. Why consider impressions when it's measurable results that move your business forward? Who really cares how many people might have scrolled past a page or post, even accidentally, if they didn't hang around or simply weren't interested?
As the principal of a marketing firm that focuses on actual leads generated from measurable efforts and engagement actions by the individual, I find counting impressions hilarious in an almost repulsive way.
Quick and easy as it might be, someone has to put at least moment's worth of thought into pressing the "+1" button – giving you an implicit endorsement. Taking that action says something about what they think of you or your ideas, and the message that sends you is a lot more meaningful than an anonymous "view" that may or may not have actually been read.
A Quick Example from My Own Content Efforts
To demonstrate this point, consider this piece of content recently posted titled "Is Social Media Turning You Into a Minimum Wage Employee?" It was a hit on LinkedIn Pulse, generating over 45,000 views before finally petering out a few days later. Today, there's still a trickle of views.
No matter how you look at it, 45,000 is a lot of impressions, and that kind of exposure is undeniably good for every aspect of my business. However, once we go beyond those immediate metrics, what did we really accomplish with all of those views?
It's still too early to tell, but I'll be very surprised if the number of new blog subscriptions, downloads on my website, and actual sales opportunities that originate from the LinkedIn Pulse article come even close to matching the results from a post I did back in February on Social Media Today which didn’t attract anywhere close to the number of views or impressions, yet will surely have a dramatically more positive impact on my firm's revenue.
The big difference and distinction, of course, is one of focus. The LinkedIn Pulse article has an attractive title and is written for almost everyone, posted at a strategic time, and earning a lot of page views as a result. The Social Media Today post was targeted to marketers (my primary target market), had more relative depth, and while likely of less interest to the casual reader, speaks directly to my buyer influencers. And so, even though it might not have received the same impressions, it was notably more powerful from an ROI perspective.
The bottom line? Watching those views on Pulse climb hour after hour was incredibly fun and satisfying, but ultimately didn’t deliver what matters most when I'm really trying to grow my business. So there you have it… the views are a fun statistic, but not a meaningful business metric.
To get a better sense of how this might ultimately play out over time, let's make the relative numbers a bit easier to compare and understand. Notice how the eye-popping views turn out to be deceptive when it comes to the results that actually matter to me the most as a business owner and not someone who just wants to watch the odometer spin:
Let’s look at the numbers for the LinkedIn Pulse article, Is Social Media Turning You Into a Minimum Wage Employee? (still growing at time of writing):
LinkedIn Post Shares to other social channels:
* based on conservative $40k/contract, 100% close
$320k / 45,000 impressions = My ROI Score: 7.1
Now let’s look at that post I did right here on Social Media Today as a “Best Thinker” in February, 3 Online Lead Generation Worksheets for Marketers [FREE].
LinkedIn Post Shares to other social channels:
based on conservative $40k/contract, 100% close
$5.8m / 428 impressions = ROI Score: 13,551.4
** Quantcast report: SMT 1.3m visits per month / LinkedIn 245m visits per month.
How Marketers Should Handle the Switch to Page Views
More often than not, I side with Google on the programs and ideas they bring to their search engine and social platform. Most of them are convenient and well thought out. In the case of displaying page views, though, my advice would be to simply ignore it altogether.
Hard as it might be to accept, they just don't matter. It's so much more meaningful (not to mention effective and profitable) to engage a small handful of committed prospects than it is to get lots and lots of views from people who are never going to do business with you and don't care what you have to say. Amassing page views on Google+, or a specific piece of content, is akin to having 10,000 Facebook "friends" that you’ve never actually met in the real world – it might make you feel better, but it probably isn't going to have any kind of effect on your life or business.
Focus on social engagement rather than empty statistics. The numbers you're looking for might not be displayed upfront on Google+ anymore, but that doesn't mean their importance has suddenly changed.
Note to critics: Agreed, this is not exactly scientific research. Rather, it is a snapshot of two real life posts containing different content, facing different audiences and addressing different issues. Just the same, I’ll bet it makes you think, right?! But, isn't the entire point of writing?