Life after page views: Web analytics 2.0

Nielsen finds online video is the key reason for the growing irrelevance of page views

In a move that many described as signaling the official death of the page view, Nielsen/NetRatings last July announced that it would no longer use page views as the primary metric for comparing Web sites. At the time, the Internet benchmarking firm cited that the growing popularity of Asynchronous Java and XML, or AJAX - which can refresh content without completely reloading a Web page - as the main reason for the change to measuring time spent on a site.

Eight months later, Nielsen now says that it overestimated the impact of AJAX on page view metrics. Instead, Nielsen found that online video is the key reason for the growing irrelevance of page views.

Nielsen is among a growing number of companies grappling with "Life After Page Views," a new Web analytics arena where blog posts, widgets, online video and other emerging Web 2.0 media are changing how companies look to measure the effectiveness of Web efforts - and the tools used to do the measuring.

"AJAX specifically is a little bit overestimated as far as the breadth of its impact," noted Scott Ross, product director of Nielsen's NetView Internet audience measurement tool. "A larger impact is probably being felt by the integration of more video on pages."

Nielsen noted that the new metric hasn't led to "widespread benefits" to those sites that heavily use AJAX, Ross added. Instead, the time spent metric has mostly benefited sites offering online video and/or slide shows, he noted. "It's a little surprising but our position was we didn't quite know where page views and all these technologies were going to go," Ross said. "We just knew as in-page technology would be more and more common that page views were less of an indicator of user activity."

Nuconomy, a new Tel Aviv-based Web analytics company that this month opened a private beta of its Nuconomy Studio technology to several hundred users in the US, agrees that the page view is increasingly irrelevant. However, it offers a different new metric than Nielsen.

Rather than measuring minutes spent on a site, Nuconomy focuses on what CEO Shahar Nechmand describes as a Web site's "semantic layer." Nuconomy's analytics tool measures comments added to blogs, ratings, applications shared with friends, clicks on ads and online video use - all of which can show how "engaged" a user is with a particular brand or product, he said.

"Page views don't really tell you the whole story," Nechmand noted. "If you have widgets you don't really have page views. If you do videos you don't have page views. We actually measure every action that every user is doing and not just the aggregate."

Each company can create its own measurement formula with the free tool, he added. For example, a site can use the tool to measure the number of comments it generates, the number of recommendations it receives or how many links back to it from other sites it generates.

In addition, Nuconomy has created a two way API to allow users to take the information generated from the tool and use it to make adjustments to its content.

"You can actually take the information in an automated way and create better Web experiences [and] change your business based on this information," Nechmand said. "We believe that the biggest problem in analytics today is it is completely separated from operational systems. People view analytics for the sake of analytics. If I can show you that a user is more interested in sports than technology and you don't do any personalization to accommodate him, it doesn't mean anything to your business."

Nuconomy plans to release a plug-in of its technology for bloggers next month. In the next two months it plans to release a public beta of the technology. It plans to make its Web analytics tool available for free to companies with less than three million unique visitors per month, Nechmand added.

Avinash Kaushik, a Web analytics consultant whose clients include Google for its Google Analytics product, cautions that despite the death of page views, companies shouldn't blindly embrace measuring "engagement" without a deep assessment of the concrete metrics behind such an effort.

"A lot of people think the page view is dying so we should measure engagement," he noted. "Just because the page view died who ... gave you the right to move to engagement? The web is becoming more fluid in terms of how people interact with it. The fluidity does not mean the core questions you wanted to answer go away."

Kaushik, who is also author of the book, Web Analytics An Hour a Day, noted while page view counts traditionally have been obtained by monitoring server log files and JavaScript tags, such models are limiting because they rely on a page refresh to happen.

He noted there are other methods for analyzing the effectiveness of streaming video, Flash applications or podcasts, he added. For example, he noted that Google's event tracking, which launched in October, can track traffic interactive elements on a site.

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