Joe Purzycki, head of partnerships at Medium, will be speaking at TheMediaBriefing’s Digital Media Strategies USA conference which takes place from 8 – 10 September 2015 at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in the heart of New York City.


How do you measure engagement with your audience? Odds-on that it’s at least partially through a brute force metric like hits, clicks or even unique users. But the head of partnerships at Medium, Joe Purzycki, is confident that publishers are becoming sophisticated enough that more subtle and reliable methods will soon be the standard:

“There is an interesting opportunity given all the conversations in the industry to redefine what engagement and what metrics really matter. I think the click is going away.”

While many publishers are still selling their audience to advertisers based on reach and scale – which might ultimately be a hiding to nothing and detrimental in the long term – we’re seeing great success from the platform-publisher hybrids who are engagement metrics like time-spent. Purzycki explains:

“One of the really interesting take that I think is being looped out of the conversation is, if you look at the larger platforms, Twitter or Facebook, they complement any viewabilty stats with interaction. I think that’s a really important piece of the puzzle that’s being left out, and here at Medium we’ve been focused on TTR or total time read and what we’ve been exploring is how that intersects.”

Gaming the ecosystem

It’s tacitly acknowledged by now that clicks are at best a proxy for audience reach, there’s also a burgeoning understanding that the system can be gamed by the less-than-scrupulous. The wide availability of ad farms is evidence that doing so is a lucrative industry, one that until recently the big ad players didn’t engage with.

Purzycki believes that changing attitudes to gaming traffic is evidence that the industry is becoming more sophisticated – and that Medium is well positioned to take advantage:

“If you’re running banner advertising, qualifying your traffic into amplified traffic – which is a common practice among some publishers now – will come under intense scrutiny in the next two to two and a half years. Traffic in particular will come under scrutiny and I think you need to be very careful about your practices there.

“One of the really interesting take that I think is being looped out of the conversation is, if you look at the larger platforms, Twitter or Facebook, they complement any viewabilty stats with interaction. That’s a really important piece of the puzzle that’s being left out.”

To combat both, Purzycki says Medium is focused on total-time-read (TTR) as a more accurate measure of success of a piece of content, whether that’s a user post or a native advert. He cites the reported success of the Financial Times’ cost-per-hour experiment of measuring user engagement, which saw most of the attached brands re-up when the pilot scheme ended as evidence that TTR is worth pursuing, both for brands and publishers:

“[The Financial Times] are a competitor in the sense that we both create content… they’ve had 11 partners just recently re-up for campaigns where in the first campaign they had been bought on time spent, and they introduce a really interesting conversation.

I think you’ll see some other platforms move into that. Snapchat is doing something similar with their offering at the moment. I’m a big proponent of active time spent as a real engagement metric.”

Platforms, publishers and ad proprositions

Medium’s future is still in question. Despite having a relatively large audience, having raised $25 million in capital and that media commentators cite its native ads on behalf of BMW as being some of the best in the business, it still reportedly isn’t profitable. That’s an issue, but one Purzycki suggests they can beat by being clever about scale:

“One of the most unique things about Medium is we’re an open platform with this ethos of moving ideas forward, or moving thinking forward. That’s a unique position…for partners because we’re a big platform with an incredibly influential audience and we’re getting bigger by the day.

“We focus on high quality because that’s what’s getting the most engagement from our readers.” 

It also requires careful thinking about what common practices shouldn’t be emulated. Speaking of the inefficacy of some publishers regarding their employment of user data, and the recent controversies around how many tracking tools are employed by publishers and advertisers, Purzycki says:

“We’re really focused on not allowing our audience data to go anywhere outside of our site without our knowledge, and I think the economist is focused on that. I think that is one of the biggest things, the value of data and holding onto it and verifying your audience is not bots. But it’s also not opening yourself up to not allowing any script or cookies on your site that is not yours.” 

Medium was an entirely unique proposition when it began, and in many ways it still is. It was the first organisation about which the portmaneteau ‘platisher’ was first used, for instance. While its financial future isn’t certain, Purzycki believes Medium will continue to innovate for as long as necessary.


Joe Purzycki, head of partnerships at Medium, will be speaking at TheMediaBriefing’s Digital Media Strategies USA conference which takes place from 8 – 10 September 2015 at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in the heart of New York City.