Fred Wilson predicts the death of the page view in 2007 as a key metric for web businesses. It’s obvious that what he’s saying is true that page views are becoming less relevant as new technologies such as AJAX and the use of widgets change what a page view really means. I don’t think there is an argument there, but I think it will be very interesting to see what becomes the new standard of measurement.
Unique visitors, visits, and page views have been the big three in terms of measuring traffic, and although it’s not really usually reported in the media I’d say ad impressions are really the most important metric for all the web business relying on advertising. If we write page views off as really being that important, what steps in?
The argument for unique visitors is that it is the core of really seeing how many real people are visiting a website. It’s the best way to measure audience size. The downside is that audience size isn’t the only measure of a website’s value or traffic. How often do those visitors visit? How long do they stay? How much revenue do they generate?
Although it doesn’t measure true human audience size, total visits can give a better indication than unique visitors how much action is really occurring on a site. But there are still too many questions. What’s better, 100k unique visitors, or 200k total visits?
A metric that’s been left out of most debates is ad impressions. One reason is that it’s generally not included in analytics solutions, and it tends to not work on sites that don’t make advertising a priority. It’s also very easy to manipulate as you can just double the amount of ads on each page to double your ad impressions. While that will double your ad impressions, it didn’t change your actual traffic, and it actually probably won’t double your ad revenue. Additionally, the amount you earn is very important in making this reliable. While Myspace may have passed Yahoo in page views due to Yahoo’s change to AJAX, Yahoo is making a heck of a lot more money from advertising because they earn much more per ad impression.
What if we get inventive and start using combination metrics like “revenue per unique visitor” which is really combining ad impressions, unique visitors, and the revenue per ad impression. That’s a metric I’d love to see more of because I think it really provides a good measure of how different industries can monetize users.
We may not really be able to come up with a solution that works in all cases, because often different metrics are more important to different people for different reasons. If we’re just concerned with how many people a site reaches, than unique visitors works. If we are more concerned with who’s making the most money, we are concerned with ad impressions and ad revenue. In the case of the Yahoo vs. Myspace clash, I think what people are trying to measure is just what site is “bigger” or gets “used more”. I think it’s clearly obvious that Yahoo has a larger audience, and generates more money, but how do we measure “usage”. Average session time multiplied by unique visitors to get a total monthly usage time measurement? There can be some problems with measuring average sessions on a site as well, it’s not a perfect science yet.
Measurement on the changing web is a complex question, but whoever manages to solve these questions will be a leader in the online measurement space.