Nielsen tears up page view metrics

Hallelujah! From the AP story on Nielsen’s move:

A leading online measurement service will scrap rankings based on the longtime industry yardstick of page views and begin tracking how long visitors spend at the sites.

The move by Nielsen/NetRatings, expected to be announced Tuesday, comes as online video and new technologies increasingly make page views less meaningful.

In my post on creating killer products, I mentioned avoiding page view metrics.

In today’s Web world, they’re a terrible measure of user engagement. A user who spends 10 minutes watching a video or 15 minutes engaged in a flash game counts the same as a user who hit your site by accident from a search engine.

Even for non-multimedia experiences, chasing page views can create terrible user experiences. Consider some examples:

  • Splitting news stories onto separate pages. Each page of the story counts as a page view. Not only is the paging annoying to the user, it hurts the way your pages are indexed making it harder for people to find your content in search engines. It’s been a while since I worked in the news business, but I’d love to see what the drop offs are at each page.
  • Pointless confirmation pages. Many sites take you to confirmation pages just so they can count the additional page.
  • Popups/popunders/etc. I read a story while back about a publisher using popup- and popunder-ads to pump their page view numbers.

Ignoring page view metrics has created some great experiences:

  • Google Maps. If you drag the map around the screen, you count as one page view. But to the user this is much easier and a much better experience than the old model of clicking an arrow on the side of the screen and waiting for the page to refresh.
  • YouTube’s embedded videos. If they’d been chasing page views, they never would have allowed users to embed videos on their own blogs.
  • Yahoo’s streaming quotes. You don’t have to refresh the page to see the latest stock price.
  • Flash-based instant messaging. You can chat with your friends without having to download and install a special client.

Not only are they much better experiences, it can save the publisher money. It takes less bandwidth and processing power to send down just the updated information than it does to generate and send an entire page.

Nielsen’s time-on-site measurement is an improvement over page views, but as with any single measurement it can be gamed. The best managers will look at a range of metrics specific to their situation.

About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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