The Pageview is Dead

Here Lies the Page View 1994-2010 Last December, ComScore reported that someone finally topped Yahoo! (YHOO) in pageviews. It was News Corp’s (NWS) MySpace.

This seemed like big news at the time. “Oh my goodness! Someone beat Yahoo!” Unfortunately, a poor metric was glamourized: the pageview.

David Dueblin at On Tokyo Time amusingly writes:

The page view metric (PV) is already dead! Not everyone got the memo though…

The pageview was important because it gave Internet advertising companies a way to measure the number of users as a means to price their advertising placements. They used it like newspapers and magazines used subscriptions. In the past, this was effective.

The adoption of modern web browsers, however, has changed the game. And advertisers either don’t realize this, or have known it all along (perhaps as far back as late 2005) but didn’t want to tell anyone. Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasian suggests that some advertisers may not want a more accurate metric either:

This is a dirty little secret in the advertising business that no one wants to talk about. Media companies love to promote how many page views their properties get. They’ve used the data to build equity. They will fight it tooth and nail to protect it, perhaps by not embracing interactive technologies as quickly as they should. But that’s not going to stop the revolution from coming.

Modern web browsers have given us the ability to change a piece of a web page without reloading the entire page. This is more popularly known as Ajax. And this technique effectively makes the pageview obsolete. How? Mike Davidson explains it well:

This would be the flow in a, say, Google-engineered network experience:

1. Click over to “GoogSpace”, or whatever we want to call it. (+1 page view)
2. Click through to read and reply to all mail (0)
3. Visit a few friends’ pages (+3)
4. Edit my profile page (+1)

That’s about 5 registered page views. The rest of the interaction comes from XML/HTTP requests.

Here’s the same sequence on MySpace:

1. Click over to MySpace. (+1 page view)
2. Log in, because MySpace doesn’t remember logins very well. (+2)
3. Click through to read and reply to all mail… about three per mail. (+21)
4. Visit a few friends’ pages. (+3)
5. Reload a few pages because of server errors. (+3)
5. Edit my profile page. (+10)

That’s about 40 registered page views… and it’s not an atypical pattern at all, from what I’ve found. Many people have also mentioned that web-based IM generates a ton of clicks for them as well.

In other words: the stuff on your page can dramatically change without having to load a whole new page. Since your page doesn’t change, it doesn’t technically count as a pageview. And if you can’t count it as a pageview, what can you count? What’s a better metric?

Evan Williams of Evhead answers with: “It depends.”

If you’re talking about what’s important to pay attention to on your own site, you have to determine what your primary success criteria are and measure that as best you can. For some sites, that could be subscribers, or paying users, or revenue, or widgets deployed, or files uploaded, or what have you. It may even be pageviews.

Here’s a summary all the metrics I’ve seen used at Internet companies or mentioned elsewhere:

  • Number of signed-in active users (as opposed to number of user accounts)
  • Number of repeat unique visitors (tracked by cookies)
  • Number of relevant actions (for YouTube, it could be number of videos viewed per user)
  • Number of clicks made (Ryan Stewart of The Universal Desktop calls this the “interaction rate“)
  • Number of feed subscribers (though this wouldn’t measure visitors to your site)
  • Time spent (this can be artifically inflated, however)

I agree with Williams. It depends. The best metric is the one that’s relevant for your application and/or market. In some cases, advertisers are going to care more about the number of active users in your system. In other cases, the number of relevant actions & clicks made.

The pageview is dead. Long live the pageview.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

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