We’ve all seen the signs. Ding dong the page view is dead… well, dying. First Compete announced that they would be using attention-based web metrics, or Attention Metrics for short. Then Facebook announced that they will move to a similar metric. Perhaps most importantly, Nielsen NetRatings announced last July that they would stop using page views for comparing popularity on the web, and move towards more attention based metrics. Also, Microsoft announced this week the release of a new ROI measurement tool called “engagement mapping”.
This is a guest post by Muhammad Saleem, a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.
The reasoning is simple enough: While unique visits and page views are useful in measuring how much incoming traffic a site has, it isn’t exactly a good or accurate way of measuring impact or even engagement. You could have high incoming traffic (for example, any site that is hugely successful on social sites) but if there is an incredibly high exit rate and only 30 seconds to a minute spent on the site, the traffic numbers don’t mean much (i.e. not all traffic is created equal). Furthermore, the rise of new web technologies such as AJAX which don’t require page reloads to refresh elements or modules in a page, or video embeds (such as from YouTube) that allow you to watch a video and then browse related videos without ever refreshing the page, are making page views a mostly inaccurate measure and rendering it largely irrelevant.
While most people agree that page views are becoming irrelevant, the same people are uncertain about the future. For example, many agree that attention-based metrics are the future. Attention metrics calculate the total time spent on a site or interacting with a page (or element on a page in the case of Facebook applications) as a percentage of total time that people spend online, to measure a site’s relative importance on the web. However, there are many others, like the Tel Aviv-based Nuconomy Studio and even Yahoo’s Buzz, that believe using factors like comments on posts, ratings from users, number of times something is shared, and clicks on ads as a measure of how popular something is is a better/more accurate metric.
The problem it seems, arises because there is a disconnect between the advertising industry and the publishing industry. The reason why there is an eternal quest for traffic, not only in terms of unique visitors, but also maximizing page views per visitor, is because advertising networks let you in on the basis of how much traffic you’re generating, and your eventual income is based on the number of impressions (and clicks). While it is true that the page view as a metric is on it’s way out, this isn’t going to happen unless a new metric comes from within the advertising industry, which, with over $20 billion at stake, has the most to gain from a more accurate way of determining where to spend their money.
But it’s not that simple either. As Scott Ross explains, different web technologies and applications have unique effects on different sites. What technologies you use and how they effect engagement and interaction on your site may depend on the size of your site, the niche you operate in, and a host of other factors. In fact, the metric that is most applicable could even change from page to page depending on the content on those pages. That being the case, perhaps one metric that is applied to everyone is just not enough and just not practical/efficient. As web technologies evolve, the page view is bound to die as a metric, but unless the advertising industry can get it’s act together and work alongside the publishing industry, a good set of new metrics that would be widely adopted is not imminent.