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Page views are dying, but are visits the answer?

admitone_ticket.jpgOne the the main challenges of interactive marketing is measurement. For quite some time the page view has been the gold standard of analytics. However, as technology changes the page view measurement is quickly losing credibility and content publishers are looking for a replacement.

The problem: The specific problem is that as user-centered technologies like AJAX penetrate the market, there are less pages viewed. Simple eh? Here is an example I use in presentations when explaining AJAX.

It's April 14th at 4:45pm. You just started doing your tax returns (you know who you are). You're filing online and you come to a page that needs to find you local school district.

    Old way -- you are shown a pull down menu with all of the states listed. You choose your state and the page reloads with all of the counties (that's one page view). You choose your county and the page reloads with all of the cities (that's two page views). You choose your city from the list and the page reloads with all of the applicable school districts (that's three page views). You then submit the form and get a big refund check.

    New way -- you come to the school district finder page and see a list of states. You choose your state. As you click your state the list of counties appears immediately below (still one page view since the page did not reload). You choose your county and a list of cities loads (still one page view). You select your city and the list of school districts appears (still one page view). This saved you time as a user since you didn't have to wait for the page to reload, but the site lost two page views.

The first A in AJAX is where the problems lie. It stands for Asynchronous, which is a complex way to say that the data transfer is happening in the background and doesn't require a new page load. The technology is very powerful and really adds a lot of value to the end user since the web application works just like an offline application (when done right). A good example is Google's Docs and Spreadsheets applications which work using similar technology. If you go to docs.google.com and create a spreadsheet. If you didn't know you were in a web browser, you would think you were using Excel.

So that's the problem. A few people have proposed a potential solution as AJAX adoption spreads quickly increasing the number of sites where the page view is irrelevant. ComScore recently put their weight behind using the unique visit as the new standard. Here is a breakdown of what they've said:

  • Unique Visits - this is the number of unique visitors who come to your site. Each user is tracked by IP address. This number will also give the best gauge of overall site performance and will also replace page views in the sales process.
  • Average visits per visitor (30 days) - this number shows engagement on the site. The more visits per visitor the more engaged the person is with the content.
  • Time on site - time on site is not a new metric, but is still very valuable to determine engagement. We will even see an 'average time per visit' using this metric and the average visits per visitor.

One of the biggest shifts that this will require is website valuation for sponsorship and advertising among SMB's. Most online ad sales people are just coming up to speed with setting real value on websites and they've been using page views. If you look purely at the numbers, 'unique visits' is going to be lower than 'page views'. How do you explain that to an advertiser? Steve Rubel does a good job outlining his concerns here. I'll dig into how this can be approached from an advertiser and site owner's viewpoint in a future post.


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