An AP report today states that Nielsen/NetRatings, one of the leading Internet stats services, will "scrap rankings" based on page views and replace it with how long visitors spend at websites. The reason is that online video and technologies such as Ajax "increasingly make page views less meaningful." We've known for some time, but it's big news if a major stats service like Nielsen/NetRatings officially degrades the importance of page views. Note that later in the AP article, it states that Nielsen won't be fully scrapping page views - they "will still provide page view figures but won't formally rank them".

The AP article details two cases where this change in focus will provide a noticeable change in bigco rankings:

"Ranking top sites by total minutes instead of page views gives Time Warner Inc.'s AOL a boost, largely because time spent on its popular instant-messaging software now gets counted. AOL ranks first in the United States with 25 billion minutes based on May data, ahead of Yahoo's 20 billion. By page views, AOL would have been sixth.

Google, meanwhile, drops to fifth in time spent, primarily because its search engine is focused on giving visitors quick answers and links for going elsewhere. By page views, Google ranks third."

You could argue that IM should be counted, as it's a place where advertisers can put their messages. So the 'AOL over Yahoo' case is justified in that respect. However, the Google case is less compelling. Its search engine is primarily built for efficiency and speed, so it seems unfair to judge them based on 'time spent on site'. Advertisers in that case are more interested in page views (or more precisely, relevancy).

How does this affect blogs?

Blogs are a good case where 'time spent' is more meaningful than page views. Especially since the blogosphere is particularly prone to the 'quantity over quality' problem. It's easy to pump out 20+ posts a day - and that tactic garners a lot of page views. But are those blogs actually writing for their readers, or writing to get page views? In other words, check the 'time spent on site' figures for those blogs and I think you'd find it is very low - because users click through, find nothing of value, and quickly leave. Is that good for advertisers on those sites? No it isn't. So in the case of blogs, I'd argue that 'time spent on site' is a better measure than the easily gamed (or at least cynically exploited) page view model.

What Nielsen's Competitors Are Doing

The AP report states that Nielsen's rival, comScore Media Metrix, "addressed the rise of Ajax with the development of site "visits" — defined as the number of times a person returns to a site with a break of at least a half-hour." But that doesn't take into account the effectiveness of a site, because again people could be visiting a site due to it being highly ranked in Google - yet when they click through they find rubbish content and so very quickly leave.

Compete (a R/WW sponsor) has a good measure called 'engagement', which measures things like Daily Attention and Average Stay. Alexa measures 'Page Views per user'. So things are beginning to change in the web stats industry.

Conclusion: One Small Step...

On balance I think it will be a step forward if Nielsen does indeed drop page views for 'time spent on site' in its rankings.

It's not yet a totally satisfying change, because with the likes of Google you want to somehow measure relevancy and with blogs you want to measure engagement. But it's at least a step away from page views, which have become too easily exploited - not just by some blogs, but also by the likes of Facebook and MySpace (which both make the user go through extra clicks to get to what they want). What do you think of this change by Nielsen?