It’s Official: Page Views Don’t Count

    July 10, 2007

The pageview is officially on its way out the door as a web site performance metric – Nielsen is dropping page view measurement in its Web traffic reporting. Instead, they will report the time visitors spend at sites.

“Based on everything that’s going on with the influx of Ajax and streaming, we feel total minutes is the best gauge for site traffic,” said Scott Ross, director of product marketing at Nielsen. “We’re changing our stance on how the data should be” used.

Nielsen will still provide page view figures but won’t formally rank them. Ross said page view remains a valid gauge of a site’s ad inventory, but time spent is better for capturing the level of engagement users have with a site.

The venerable pageview has been done in by increasing adoption of new technologies, principally Ajax and streaming video. Ajax allows users to update page content without actually pulling a new page from the server, while video allows users to view continuously changing content on the same page. In sites with heavy Ajax or video components, users may spend considerable time on the site and even interact with the site while generating no new pageviews; this makes comparing page view statistics with other sites an unreliable indicator of relative time spent or visitor engagement.

Scott Karp at Digital Media Wire points out, “But time spent is an equally problematic metric that assumes that more is better, which isn’t the case with web applications designed for efficiency, like Google search. 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.” Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web thinks that time spent may be a better indicator of user involvment in blogs, particularly those with longer, higher quality articles vs. blogs with a large volume of low-content posts. Darren Reed at Problogger notes that pageviews still have some importance from an advertising standpoint, since ad revenue is often impression-based.

The Inherent Unreliability of Web Metrics. Measuring time spent on a site may present its own technical challenges, but in some cases it should be a better indicator of visitor behavior. And ANY web statistics must be taken with a grain of salt. Marketing types love to throw out numbers for “unique visitors,” for example, as if someone checked IDs at the door to the website. In fact, lots of things go wrong with unique visitors and most other web stats. Various automated bots and spiders can affect counts, users clear cookies or don’t accept them in the first place, visitors disable Javascript, ISPs use multiple IP addresses for the same user session… For busy sites, these issues no doubt average out; nevertheless, it’s important to recognize the inherent imprecision in just about all web statistics. (For a eye-opener, try comparing a script-based analytics tool like Google Analytics with a server log analysis tool like NetTracker – you may be suprised by the differences in results between the two well-regarded programs.)