Here’s something (not at all) shocking: Nielsen/NetRatings has officially replaced “page views” with “time spent” as its default ranking metric. There’s just one problem. The page view’s been dead for some time now. So, not only 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 website’s performance.
Is an “undead” metric any better than a dead one?
What’s funny is that Bryan Eisenberg and I were just chatting about this over IM last night, wondering what ever happened to Nielsen’s “June announcement” about this dumb sea change in metrics. For those who don’t know, Bryan eulogized the Web Page last October in his ClickZ column, and did so in person at Emetrics Summit. Still, I thought he said it best over IM (edited for grammar):
None of these metrics measure anything telling about the user experience in a Web world. They’re proxies for the old “reach” and “frequency” metrics Nielsen’s been pawning for years. When old media wonks wanted some “scientific” measurement system to “accurately” buy and sell media. Yup, those panel surveys were accurate and scientific, alright. Because of the inconsistencies from one experience to the next, this medium cannot–and by it’s nature will not–allow for comparative metrics. In this medium, the visitor’s in control and, as we can see from comScore’s cookie-based research we’ve seen, they’ll continually make it harder to measure them.
Google’s succeeded in selling lots of ads because they didn’t buy into the old school paradigm. Everyone else just doesn’t want to admit they’re waiting for their cat to bark, and for the world to go their way again. Let me know how that works out…
Speaking of IM, it turns out that “time spent” now gives AOL ranking credit not just for people at AOL.com, but for people using AIM–to which we can only say, “LOL!” Google’s rank drops from #3 to #5 because they give people quick, relevant results, while AOL jumps to #1 from #6 because people are using a one-off application. Hmm…
Of course, the blogs are already going nuts. Micro Persuasion‘s Steve Rubel who, months after Bryan, predicted the death of the page view in Not-stradamus-like fashion is reveling in the news. Back in February, Rubel asked “What Willl Replace the Almighty Page View?” (whether he read my response about the futility of “time spent” is anyone’s guess). Meanwhile, some are more hesitant to rejoice:
The news immediately made Slashdot, where worries were expressed that this emphasis on viewing time will cause designers (and their bosses) to try anything they can think of to slow down the user.
OK, now that I’ve flooded you with links, here are the real questions:
[UPDATE: Bryan Eisenberg discusses "What Advertisers Should Be Measuring" and why "time spent" could prove disastrous.]