Nielsen announced (pdf) that it was changing the core measurement of online user engagement with a website from pageviews to total time spent on site. From the Dow Jones story:
Nielsen will still provide page-view figures but won’t formally rank them. … page view remains a valid gauge of a site’s ad inventory, but time spent is better for capturing the level of engagement users have with a site.
This is partly a (somewhat belated) recognition of technology change: with increasingly rich media, such as AJAX technologies, video embedded on a page or the use of services like instant messaging, the number of pageviews becomes an increasingly irrelevant measure. (Pageviews are also much more easily “gamed” than time spent.)
Nielsen’s competitors are also addressing this issue, as noted on the Read/WriteWeb blog on this:
comScore Media Metrix, “addressed the rise of Ajax with the development of site ”visits“ — defined as the number of times a person returns to a site with a break of at least a half-hour.” But that doesn’t take into account the effectiveness of a site, because again people could be visiting a site due to it being highly ranked in Google – yet when they click through they find rubbish content and so very quickly leave.
Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0 points out that time spent is not without its own drawbacks, either:
The problem is that the web is not a monolithic medium. Reading a blog, using instant messaging, and using web search are utterly different — the idea that one metric can be used as a yardstick to compare them is absurd on the face of it.
Karp goes on to point out that for many advertisers, all these measures (pageviews, visits, time spent, etc.) are really proxies for action by the users, i.e. clicks (or preferably conversions):
Google makes money by selling actions, i.e. clicks.
No wonder more than half of all online advertising revenue goes to Google.
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