Remember a few years ago when people talked about how many "hits" their Web sites got? Now, we look back and think how quaint things were in olden times, when pioneers were just beginning to settle the Wild Wild West of the Internet.
Someday, we might feel the same nostalgia for page views and impressions, because new technologies are muddying the metrics picture.
AJAX-y Goodness May Not Be So Good
Why? Here's one example. Yahoo is rolling out a redesign of its home page, which the company modestly calls "the world's most visited Web page." One of the main features is an AJAX (define)-powered "personal assistant," which sits on the top right hand corner of the page. The assistant lets users interact with their email, Yahoo Messenger, LAUNCHcast Radio, Yahoo Weather, Yahoo Local, and more without leaving the portal's home page.
The company told ClickZ that designers placed an ad unit directly underneath the assistant because it expects users to spend a lot of time there, but it's not clear how this will be quantified. Surely when it call itself the world's most visited home page, it's talking about visits, that is, page views, which generate ad impressions. What now?
Sure, AJAX has been integrating into the Web's fabric for some time now. But Google, the force most responsible for distributing it to the world, doesn't make money from page views or even impressions. In the Google world, the query and the click are king. For Yahoo, it's a different story.
I'm not suggesting Yahoo will suddenly and completely be unable to prove its value to advertisers. I'm pretty sure home page takeovers and the like will continue to appear, even on the new home page. And I honestly believe this technology rocks for consumers. It will make them love the Web even more than they do already. But the spread of this technology, as my fellow ClickZ columnist Sean Carton pointed out last year, might have a seriously disruptive influence.
Video Leaps From the Page
Combine the AJAX revolution with the rise in video, and things get even more interesting, measurement-wise. As I mentioned before, up until now we've done pretty well assessing a site's relative impact, and its potential to deliver ad impressions, by the number of page views generated and the number of unique visitors it attracts. But I've spent some time this week with AOL's video player, and I'm pretty sure I'm not viewing pages, as such. These content delivery moments are measured as streams, most likely, but what of AOL's rankings by Nielsen//NetRatings or comScore Media Metrix?
And though the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released final specs for broadband video ad impressions this week, some, like About.com CEO Scott Meyer, believe the medium is likely to outgrow that measurement. In a conversation with ClickZ's Kate Kaye this week, he suggested Internet Gross Ratings Points might be a better way.
Stabs at Improvement
I'm certainly not the first to note the inadequacy of today's metrics. Most notably, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) has been working with the idea of engagement. But the last I heard from the group wasn't very encouraging. "Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context," was the definition proposed at the group's recent conference in New York. Seems like a lot of work is needed before we get down to actual numbers. No page view or impression substitutes seem forthcoming there.
In the meantime, vendors are coming up with their own interpretations of engagement. Viewpoint this week unveiled something it calls the Engagement Index for rich media ads, which takes into account things like ad display time, CTR (define), and interaction rate. Eventually, it will also include video play time. E-mail company Lyris came up with its own Engagement Index this week (can this get any more confusing?). The firm's ListManager 9.0 client weighs things like opens, CTRs, unsubscribes, forwards, and resulting transactions to come up with its metric. These different formulas, in widely differing contexts, may make it more difficult to reach consensus when the industry decides there should be a unified definition.
I think we'd all agree that technologies like video and AJAX are making the Web a much more interesting place, for both consumers and advertisers. I'm certainly not suggesting we halt progress in the interest of simplicity. I'm just saying things are getting more complex every day, and it's time to start asking about more than just page views, about more than just impressions. That is, if you aren't already.
Join us for our Online Video Advertising Forum in New York City, June 16, 2006.
Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
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