NetRatings: Engagement Rules

Nielsen//NetRatings released research today charting the growth of consumer engagement with Web sites, even as unique user growth is flat or down. The firm reports sharp increases in the number of pages viewed per person per month across five categories, saying the finding suggests people are ever more enthralled with the Internet.

Charles Buchwalter, NetRatings’ VP of analytics, also said the research company would add search to its offerings.

Buchwalter lays out the findings in a white paper titled “Integrated Interactive Marketing: Quantifying the Evolution of Online Engagement.” Buchwalter presents the number of Web pages viewed per user per month across five categories: news/information, financial services, family/lifestyles, education/careers, and entertainment.

Although unique visitor growth is flat or down in each category, the pages per person are way up. In some cases, Buchwalter calls the gap “staggering.”

The spread is highest in the entertainment category, where NetRatings reports a 119 percent growth in individual Web page consumption across 10 Web sites it calls representative. By comparison, unique visitors were down slightly on those combined sites. Other categories turned up narrower margins. On 10 sites geared toward education, the firm reports 72 percent growth in monthly page views per user, but a nearly 10 percent decline in unique visitors.

In his comments, Buchwalter confessed to cherry-picking the most impressive categories for pages-per-person growth. For the market as a whole, unique visitor growth was down 2 percent and pages per person up only 2 percent.

Nielsen’s is the second report in two days to note the personal attachment people have with online media. Yesterday, Yahoo and WPP Group’s Mediaedge:cia offered up findings that broadband is leading Internet users to spend more time online and view both more Web sites and pages.

Highlighting engagement with the online medium is hardly a new focus for marketers. Yahoo and OMD measured emotional reliance on the Internet in a Web deprivation study last fall. And a Websense/Harris Interactive look at personal surfing turned up similar results a year ago.

What’s perhaps unique about the Nielsen//NetRatings report is its statistical focus on monthly page views per visitor as a measurement of engagement. Others have attempted more qualitative approaches. Commenting on the findings, Buchwalter said the days are passing when online marketers feel compelled to prove the Internet as an engagement medium. As an indicator of this, he noted that according to numbers drawn from NetRatings’ AdRelevance service, 2004 was the first year the largest advertiser in the online space, SBC, was also one of the top 10 advertisers overall.

“Engagement is the thing the top advertisers have always been looking for,” Buchwalter said.

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