Page Views vs. Time Spent: Balance Competing Metrics

When it comes to measurement, raw impressions still rule as the easiest to understand and track. This drives page views as a core metric for online marketers and publishers. More page views mean more potential impressions.

Page views are under attack because of, oddly enough, the people who create them. The basic request/response interaction provides a user experience wherein each click translates into a new Web page being returned. Web developers are increasingly looking to AJAX (define) and similar approaches to provide a more desktop-like online experience. Methods such as AJAX often operate from a single page, refreshing only the data that needs to be updated. Because the page itself doesn’t reload as frequently, page views and ad impressions can drop. Think about a typical Google Maps integration. As you work with the map, the page itself isn’t reloaded: only the map data change.

Consider the metric, time spent online, recently bumped up in stature by Nielsen//NetRatings. As visitors spend more time viewing AJAX pages or watching video, the pure page-view metric can underreport a property’s marketing performance. As application developers continue to push Web 2.0, there’ll likely be a further drop in page views and a corresponding rise in the time spent on each page. Efforts to increase page views as more visitors consume more site content are a central element of the publisher’s toolkit. By comparison, data-centric applications with a more desktop feel — those with little or no lag between action and result — will continue to lure visitors seeking a crisp online experience.

As a marketer or publisher, how do you manage these trends to your advantage? Savvy marketers and publishers with deep archives of content can tap both and win a larger, more valuable audience. The key is to distinguish between text pages — articles, for example, provide an excellent experience when served as pages — and a data-centric application, like a map, that benefits from a data-only refresh rather than a page reload.

Consider content’s role, the stuff customers and visitors really want. Separate out the data, the user-provided specifics that help shape a content stream. Provide a Web 2.0 experience to handle data and make activities such as profile updates quick and easy. After all, the easier it is to keep a profile, an account, purchase history, and personal preferences up to date, the better the chance the content served to visitors on the basis of their profiles will satisfy them.

This is particularly true for large online publishers: If it’s easy for people to keep their accounts current, that is if that portion of the publishing application works like a well-built desktop, people are more likely to keep personal information updated. The content served to them, then, is more likely to engage, keep them coming back, and get them to share it with friends. That’s great for content publishers because it builds a loyal audience.

But how can marketers use these concepts to evaluate competing online buys? Consider competing properties from a consumer’s perspective and ask, “Which of these would I use?” If using the application is a breeze and the content is fresh, compelling, and accurate, people using this site will likely be more receptive to your message for two reasons.

First, the site functions like a well-built desktop application. Serving ads only when they’re welcome raises that ad’s attention factor.

Second, if the site’s tools are more cumbersome than they need to be, they’re less likely to be used. That negatively affects visitor data quality and, in turn, negatively affects the site’s ability to serve relevant content. Keeping visitor data current raises the relevance of both the ads and content served to that visitor. Easy-to-use utilities and great content are clearly the way to go. Help visitors get their work done, then offer them a relevant message only when they’re open to considering it.

Combining a crisp tool set with deep, rich content also builds loyal, which is repeat traffic from a publisher’s perspective. This drives a site’s value from a marketer’s perspective and encourages the people who enjoy its content to develop a deep bond with the site. That bond drives page views where they count, ensures that behavioral tools really work, and above all encourages existing readers to refer the site to their friends. Good data, solid engagement, and active, positive word of mouth are a powerful online marketing combination. Put them to work.

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