Here’s my next MediaPost column, a contribution to the growing debate over the Web page-view metric. My biggest problem with page views is that publishers are addicted to them, while they hamper creating better products for the audience (otherwise known as the customer). That’s a failing strategy in a consumer-empowered world. See here for the MediaPost comment string.
Page Views Weaken As Metric, But Won’t Die in 2007
By Max Kalehoff, January 5, 2006
A debate in the blogosphere and trade press over the relevance of the Web page-view metric picked up steam in the latter half of 2006. While many argued the metric has never been more than a rough proxy of impressions, it is the universal currency of online media buyers and sellers, and it’s making publishers increasingly, if secretly, anxious.
The underlying issue is the adoption of new Web technologies, like Ajax and Flash, which increasingly eliminate the need to reload a Web page. (Think of more dynamic services like Google Maps, Yahoo Mail, Flickr and YouTube videos embedded in blogs.) These technologies, while enhancing usability and increasing functionality, usually result in fewer page views for the publisher, and, ahem, fewer CPMs to sell. This more complicated Web means clickstream, consumption and interaction is now far less represented by the page view.
Not surprisingly, the death of the page view has been predicted and touted recently by some of the Web’s more forward-looking champions of such aforementioned technologies–people like Fred Wilson, Steve Rubel, Steve Gillmor, Niall Kennedy and Fredric Paul. And with MySpace overtaking Yahoo in the page-view chest-beating race, Peter Daboll, Yahoo’s chief of insights (and former CEO of comScore Media Metrix, where I used to work), also came out last month to boldly argue for a page-view death sentence.
The shortcomings, flaws and growing irrelevance of the page view are undeniable, but will the page view die as quickly as so many predict or hope? To the detriment of the online publishing industry’s advancement, my prediction is the metric will fade, or evolve, pretty slowly. I agree with Dan Melvin, who commented on Fred Wilson’s blog post on the topic: “[O]nline media metrics are only the tail, and they don’t wag the dog anymore. The dog is advertising revenue, and that will drive what metrics are used. But the reality is that decision-making on where to buy online ad space doesn’t change very quickly, so I’m not convinced that metrics will change quickly either, even though they should in a perfect world. PVs and UVs will likely still be used just because they provide comparability. Even if they become less accurate proxies to what ad buyers really want to know, they might persist just because there are no better universally used proxies. Hopefully better metrics will become universally used but I think it will take a long time.”
Even if the page view doesn’t disappear today or tomorrow, its eventual demise is a signal for publishers to start thinking harder–right now–about their most important stakeholder: their audiences. If your audiences are boss, and you’re nothing to advertisers without them, then you must think seriously about shifting your emphasis from page views to the value and usability of your product. Page-view dependence is competitive vulnerability, because it compromises your audience experience.
What do I mean? Aforementioned Web technologies enable far more compelling user experiences, but page-view addiction often stints publisher innovation by rewarding clunky designs which increase page reloads and result in more interruptive experiences. Most major publishers today are guilty of this to some degree, and some far more than others. Sites specifically rigged to deliver high page views often are as disruptive to flow as a television show crammed with too many intrusive commercials. For example, how annoyed do you get when news sites force you to click through multiple pages, all for one story? And worse, when you’re forced to click through multiple pages simply to review readers’ comments to a story? It’s as if we need a TiVo-like device to skip excessive page views! This is but one trivial example of compromised experience, but hopefully you get my point.
Ultimately, publishers–individually and collectively through industry consortiums like the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Online Publishers Association–must invest in new ways to demonstrate advertising value. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 is probably right in that the future of online advertising lies in the fuzzy middle between direct response and branding, but that the page view will reign until innovation dethrones it.
Regardless of ad-industry standards and technicalities, remember this: audiences today expect perpetually improving products and experiences. If you’re a publisher who can’t deliver because of page-view dependence, someone else will. That becomes a reason for your audiences to leave you, and then page views really become irrelevant.