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Thursday, Apr. 19, 2007 at 11:52 am

Shame on WSJ For Not Asking What Nielsen Is Smoking

By Bryan Eisenberg
April 19th, 2007

The Wall Street Journal‘s (account required) reporters are top-notch journalists. Journalists are paid to ask the right questions. Yet today, while they report that Nielsen is shifting from page view metrics to time-spent metrics, nobody questions the absurdity.

According to the Journal:

“Page views have been a major barometer of a Web site’s popularity and help set advertising rates, but the measure is becoming less relevant. Online publishers and advertisers say page views don’t capture consumer loyalty to a site or reflect the increasing popularity of online video and new technology that automatically refreshes Web sites, thereby depressing page views.”

Nielsen/NetRatings, in June will release what it calls “time-spent” data and stop issuing its rankings by page views. The New York company’s rival, ComScore Inc. said last month that it is emphasizing a measurement called “visits,” which takes into account the time people return to surf a Web site in a month.”

HA HA HA HA!!  I have a bridge near our offices in Brooklyn to sell you, too.

The OBVIOUS QUESTIONS:

- Do you ever open up a browser and get distracted by a phone call, a meeting, your kids, or an instant message? Will the time the “page” is open be counted there as well?

- Have these folks never heard of tabbed browsing? Let’s pause for a moment. How many tabs or browsers do you have open? (More than one, most likely.) When people keep 6 or 7 tabs opened, would all of them count as time-spent from the moment the first tab was opened? That’s a clear indication that someone is engaged, huh?

- Nobody wants to be held accountable. New media gurus are just old media wonks in costume who still think of their audience as recipients. In today’s media climate, they’re participants, and the only time you can tell they’re engaged is when they click. Trying to base a measurement on anything more than the click leaves you playing a dangerous game of smoke-and-mirrors.

Maybe they should spend some time looking at the ways in which people actually engage with the Web instead of awarding themselves creative prizes.

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Comments (25)

  1. Bryan,

    I completely agree with you, I wanted to point you to an article that I wrote on Why I don’t like time spent on site as a KPI.

    http://webanalysis.blogspot.com/2007/01/understanding-time-spent-on-site.html

  2. Ha, great post Bryan.

  3. Bryan,

    I agree with you that time spent can be hard to track. I think its also becoming hard to track page views though because of the increasing amount of web 2.0 interactive stuff (flash, ajax). All the clicks within these interactive pages can’t be counted by analytics programs which severally skews page views.

  4. Can We Measure Visitor Attention?…

    Last month, comScore changed from measuring page views to their new “visits” metric, designed to better measure visitor engagement. Or, as they put it, “visits” measures “the number of times a unique person accesses conte…

  5. Crap! Thirty minutes trying to write something, and I’ve got nothing.

  6. Normally I have 7 or 8 at once, and I highly doubt that the erratic browsing seen with multiple tab using users would be an accurate measure of user behavior, especially more accurate than simple page views.

  7. This is just as bad as comScore’s recent press release trying to convince everyone that panel measurement is better than web analytics.

  8. I agree with you and think that they should use some combination of metrics to measure value.

  9. Do We Want to Measure Time Spent?…

    Andy Beal and Bryan Eisenberg are both asking good questions about the new “time spent” metrics that Neilsen/Netratings is introducing. Andy wants to know how time spent is calculated (good question) while Bryan assumes that it is time spent in……

  10. Ouf, someone finally asks the questions ! And I use to add this one “Why 30 minutes ? Because of the Webalizer default parameters ?”

    Page view, Visitor, unique visitor, and now Time spent. Why not talking again about hits and kilobytes ?

    ;)

  11. [...] Shame on WSJ For Not Asking What Nielsen Is Smoking – GrokDotCom On the introduction of time per visit metrics, touted as a replacement for page views: visit duration is inflated by distractions from the site; ignores tabbed browing; and is only indirectly linked to engagement. (tags: internet audience measurement trends nielsen) [...]

  12. Yes, Bryan, because we all know that it matters what the user does while the browser is opened. Do they leave a comment? Participate in a poll? Feel compelled to write a post on their blog in response to the content? Leave behind their contact information? Join a membership program? Participate in co-creation? BUY something?

  13. [...] was interested to read this at Time Spent: Nielson Moves From Away From Page Views The Wall Street Journal’s (account required) reporters are top-notch journalists. Journalists [...]

  14. I agree Bryan, but would it be possible to track both the time spent metrics and page-view metrics and draw out something of both together? Instead of using one or another only.

  15. Brian, thanks for adding sanity to the conversation and for blasting these idiot companies out of the water.

    Ramon Ray, Smallbiztechnology.com

  16. I’m not hearing that they WON’T measure page views. I’m hearing that they won’t rank sites by page views. That seems very reasonable. We all know page views are essentially useless in terms of measuring success because they can be skewed by design, refresh rates, etc.

  17. Ian: It’s not about the page views being cheated, it’s about the fact that Neilsen/NetRatings is replacing one meaningless in-a-vacuum metric with another meaningless, and grossly misleading, pseudo-metric: ‘time spent.’

    We recently published another piece on the subject.

  18. [...] Time Spent: Nielson Moves From Away From Page Views Good point on shifting from page views to time spent as key engagement metric – their are flaws in all approaches, but we still need to measure what we can (tags: socialmedianow socialmedia engagement measurement nielsen video) [...]

  19. What are Nielson smoking? I want some of that, it must be good stuff.
    Seriously, are their customers THAT stuck in the TV age?

  20. [...] is this announcement one of the worst-kept secrets since Sir Elton John's orientation–we laughed when The Wall Street Journal reported the move to "time spent" back in April–it's like firing a mummy and replacing him with a zombie to track your [...]

  21. I totally agree with your point: “spend some time looking at the ways in which people actually engage with the Web”. That’s why ClickTale records and plays back movies of visitor interaction.

    In addition, we invented a new statistic called ActiveTime™ that counts the time a user has spent interacting with a webpage, rather than just the amount of time a page has been left open. Read more in our blog post: http://blog.clicktale.com/2007/07/11/nielsen-netratings-confirms-pageviews-are-dead-long-live-activetime/

  22. [...] for which a page was open on a user’s computer. Though an improvement over the older system, ‘total minutes’ does not take in to account the coffee and bathroom breaks of it’s…. How often have you dropped whatever you were doing on line to go scavenging for food, or to run to [...]

  23. I am hearing that they won’t rank sites by page views.

    This is just as bad as comScore’s recent press release trying to convince people.

  24. Journalists are paid to ask the right questions and the they are double-paid to write the convenient answers.

  25. [...] is calculated (good question) while Bryan assumes that it is time spent in the browser and asks more good questions. Are we missing the boat on metrics [...]

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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