Bound in Page Views?

Last time, I announced the death of the Web page. Echoing a few responses I received, a reader wrote:

So what is taking the place of the now-defunct Web page? If the windmill Eisenberg is tilting at is page view statistics, that battle was won long ago. I haven’t talked to a single company recently that believes that’s still a relevant metric of Web site success.

Though this reader is correct — few argue that page views are a measure of Web site success — far too many still overemphasize page views as measure of marketing success (thus driving traffic cost inflation). But I digress.

Technically speaking, those HTML docs we call Web pages aren’t dead; millions are still packeted to browsers every day.

HTML-born technology isn’t dead. The Web page metaphor is dead. Here’s why.

New Medias, Old Metaphors

Yesterday, I purchased an album on iTunes. It wasn’t a vinyl disc with a cardboard sleeve, of course, it was a dozen AAC files that reside as 1s and 0s on my hard drive. Still, the album metaphor persists. Why?

With new technologies and new media types coming at us at an unprecedented pace, we yearn for the familiar and the comfortable. As a result, we label new media with familiar metaphors. In the marketing world, this allows for universal appeal, which leads to mass adoption and more accurate media valuation (i.e., cost of media).

When consumers, users, advertisers, and businesses needed a working metaphor for Internet-delivered content, it was easiest and most convenient to borrow from print. Thus, the term “Web page” was coined. For many years, that metaphor served us well. It helped monetize the technology and even introduced a level of measurability and accountability that previously hadn’t existed in marketing and business.

But the metaphor has outlived its usefulness. Customer needs, new technology, and business goals are far too sophisticated for the flat, static Web page metaphor.

A Web Page or a Web Experience?

When Internet technology began to explode 8 to 10 years ago, users experienced it more like a printed page. Today, we deal with in-page and off-site widgets that change the page perspective. People have always engaged online differently than in print, and today’s online engagement is much different than the typical 1996 online engagement.

In addition, people don’t read online as they do a printed page. Take Natalie and David, who are shopping for diamonds. Two distinct personas, two completely different ways of engaging online. Each needing its own experience, each using the same Web page in completely different manners.

Throw in RSS, tabbed browsing, Flash, video, Web 2.0 technology, and the technology de jour for good measure, and you can see today’s iteration of a Web page isn’t a page at all. Not even close.

Even visitors have evolved their metaphors. When was the last time you heard someone say they were surfing the Internet, or even had the time to?

The Problem of Measurement

The page metaphor created nothing but sophisticated hit counters. Some Web analytics vendors use underlying technology based on page views (many are redesigning as we speak) and later try to synch that with unique visitors or visitor sessions; too few are based on measuring and monitoring visitor context, a visitor profile, and event-based metrics. Most of today’s metrics don’t easily allow for measuring multiple customer-centric modalities. It’s still too difficult to measure why visitors are (or aren’t) taking actions.

Even the most sophisticated marketers use overly simplistic conversion funnels and active segments that are still mostly focused on page-based activities.

To date, we’ve all profited from Web pages and the metaphor, but our narrow-minded view is leaving too much on the table. When it comes to optimization and measurement, the smart marketer is getting the sense he’s fiddling with firecrackers while sitting on a rocket.

A Costly Metaphor?

Anyone who’s ever worked in offline retail or bought from a brick-and-mortar store knows not every visitor gets exactly the same sales pitch. Even a below-average shoe salesman has the ability to alter his pitch customer to customer while selling the same shoe.

So why do 99 percent of e-tailers have only one product description page for each product? Do they expect everyone will be sold the exact same way? Do they believe they can just fill the page with tons of content and hope visitors read the whole thing for the points relevant to them?

Why haven’t we evolved? Why don’t we alter our pitches based on different customers and their different needs? Are Web pages too expensive? Or are we still bound by the printed catalog page metaphor? Let me know what metaphorical traps you’re caught in.

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