Pageviews Are NOT The Answer, Or: An Undesirable Endgame

14 Apr

That, or maybe I’m inventing a lesson learned in the fallout from the web 1.0 bubble.  I could have sworn one of the most important things we learned was that valuing firms (people, etc) based upon page-views was a fantastically stupid idea.  This is because contrary to popular belief and practice (thanks Mary Meeker, et Al.) all eyeballs are not, in fact, created equal. If I’m buying web ads, why do I want to pay based upon how many people visit a site when they may click-away a few seconds later?  If I’m paying content-creators, why do I care how many people initially visit their content if they’re not looking at/clicking-on the massively-annoying banner ads scattered all over the site?

Page-views are such an incomplete, limited, and unrealistic metric that every honest, remotely intelligent person should cease to use them, but alas, the practice still persists.  Just because that’s how things have and are still done today, does not, contrary to conventional wisdom, mean it is the way things SHOULD be done.

The most egregious abusers of the page-view-as-key-metric crowd are often content farms like Huffington Post (AOL blogs) and The Business Insider (among a disturbingly large and well-known cadre of other offenders including “brand-names” like Forbes, thestreet.com, etc), where link-bait, unnecessary slide-shows, syndicating (often worthless) contentpublishing things that are nowhere close to “news” as if they are, creating unnecessary page-breaks, and other means of artificially boosting page-views not only encouraged but are in fact de-rigeur.

Reliance upon page views provides a perverse incentive for website operators and their hired guns content “creators” to pump out as much sensationalist trash as possible to juice their numbers, instead of providing incentives to create (and to a lesser extent, curate) high-quality, timely, and relevant content.  This is not to say these sites solely publish crap; on the contrary, quite perplexingly almost all of these sites mix some % of quality content with absolutely useless dreck, which makes me question why the owners/operators enjoy burying (cannibalizing?) the hard work of their own staff with so much fluff.  I digress…

Already, the effects of these incentives are disturbingly widespread; some of the most widely-cited and “read” websites are those that cater to the lowest-common-denominator, sensationalizing everything and artificially stimulating page views with aforementioned gross techniques.  Combined with other practices like search-engine optimization (SEO), meta-tagging, etc, this pushes lower-quality content ‘to the top,’ while burying some of the higher (nay, highest) quality content under all the garbage.

Fortunately, I see some small signs of these practices and trends slowing, although not yet close to reversing-course.

The problem it seems, arises because there is a disconnect between the advertising industry and the publishing industry. The reason why there is an eternal quest for traffic, not only in terms of unique visitors, but also maximizing page views per visitor, is because advertising networks let you in on the basis of how much traffic you’re generating, and your eventual income is based on the number of impressions (and clicks). While it is true that the page view as a metric is on it’s way out, this isn’t going to happen unless a new metric comes from within the advertising industry, which, with over $20 billion at stake, has the most to gain from a more accurate way of determining where to spend their money.

So here we have a cute little game of chicken-or-the-egg; publishers aren’t going to voluntarily switch from pageview-based metrics (for paying staff and selling ads) unless ad-agencies demand such a change.  The agencies, however, aren’t going to risk lucrative engagements by confusing their clients who are comfortable with pageview-based metrics with some new-fangled alternative approach, despite the fact so-doing is/would-be in their best interest.

I’m not the biggest Facebook fan, but as more and more websites adopt FB measurements (“likes,” comments, shares), perhaps this will be a catalyst for change away from simple page-view metrics of “success” towards ones that better measure the number of eyeballs, the duration those eyeballs are engaged, how “worthwhile” they are, and how much they influence other sets.  There are some other signs of life in the measurement and advertising industries that have some potential to upset the evil empire of pageview worship, but so far, widespread adoption is a long-ways away.

Hopefully, whether its Facebook or whatever, we’ll see current practices go the way of the DoDo Bird before we devolve into a stumbling, bumbling idiocracy, informed exclusively by ALL CAPS headlines filled with link-bait bullshit…

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4 Responses to “Pageviews Are NOT The Answer, Or: An Undesirable Endgame”

  1. Bill April 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more with you. I *get* why pageviews are still counted; the assumption that if you increase pageviews you will increase success, assuming all else remains the same (conversion rate, for example)…

    However, I think you hit the nail on the head with the chicken-or-egg analogy. The advertising industry is all about eyeballs and they don’t even care that the eyeballs are blind in some cases.

    IF the ad folks wanted to improve their profitability, they’d change their model. But like everything else, inertia keeps the status quo ship afloat and moving in the same old direction (even if right towards the rock-filled shore).

    Thanks for sharing your insights. Great post. Sharing with as many people as I can — important stuff!

    • The Analyst April 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks for the comment and glad you like it! I’m shocked that 10 years later pageviews are still the standard unit of measurement of “success,” despite a very large mound of evidence against. I think the real impetus will be if (when?) investors finally get smart (i.e. stop relying on the “greater fool” for exits) and demand that sites they consider investing in demonstrate “success” across a variety of metrics, only one of which is pageviews.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Growing frustration with the Business Insider model.  (The Reformed Broker, Stone Street Advisors) […]

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