There’s a reason why the page view has become the de facto metric for measuring content performance on the web.
Whether you are using Google Analytics, Chartbeat or any other analytics product, the mechanism is similar as they all track page views in the same way. And therein lies the inherent problem the digital publishing and analytics industry faces when it comes to replacing the page view with another metric.
Before I go into detail about the issue of switching to another metric, it’s important that we understand why the the change is necessary in the first place.
The page view is first and foremost a vanity metric; it looks good but in reality it doesn’t mean very much.
Think about it: your latest article gets 50,000 page views - what does that even mean? Did the people who landed on this article read all or most of it? Did they like it? Were they in any way engaged with it? Will they be coming back later today or tomorrow?
By simply relying on the page view as a measure of content success we miss out, or minimise, crucial data points that are much more valuable to building and retaining an audience.
In the race to increase overall reach and page views month after month, we have forgotten one key concept: customer (audience) retention, and it’s not a healthy approach to building a sustainable publication. This is why the page view is an antiquated way of tracking content performance and why a more relevant - and smarter - alternative is needed.
There are two main metric schools of thought in terms of replacing page views. The first is the idea of engagement; creating a score that measures how involved your audience is with a particular piece of content. The other is something called attention minutes, which measures how long people are engaging with content on a page.
These two metrics are actually a bit different, but don’t they sound extremely similar? It’s like you read the same sentence twice. The entire industry is split on which measurement is better. And if that wasn't bad enough, the way both engagement and attention minutes have been calculated to date has been mostly shrouded in secrecy by the companies inventing these metrics.
The lack of transparency and collaboration has resulted in publishers and analytics companies coming up with different ways to calculate the same metric. This makes things confusing for advertisers, which means it’s harder for the publisher to sell ad space.
It’s also confusing for the publisher, who has to look at these metrics every day and has two (or more) different products providing different results. Which do you believe? Probably the one that shows more favourable numbers, but is it actually right? If it’s not, that doesn’t really help your long-term success.
There is only one way we can get past relying on page views - we need to create a standard engagement metric. One that is the same across the board, regardless of the analytics app.
Ideally, it should be created and maintained by a group of people/companies in the industry. A standard measurement of engagement transparent to both publishers and advertisers will receive a lot more respect than one that is essentially smoke and mirrors.
What needs to happen now is for the digital publishing community, including analytics providers and advertisers, to come together and identify what metrics matter most to them when it comes to understanding audience interaction/engagement on their sites.
Start with the basics, look towards metrics like time on page, scroll depth, whether or not visitors are clicking to other pages on the site and expand from there. It’s important to realise things on the internet and in digital media are more complex now than five, ten, fifteen years ago, which ultimately means that whatever engagement metric ends up replacing the page view will be multi-faceted and consist of several different metrics. And because of all this new complexity, it’s extremely unlikely we’ll ever have another one-dimensional metric like the page view becoming the standard again.
As a publisher and founder of an analytics company, I can’t wait for the day when page views are thought of as secondary to engagement, but I know we’ll never get there unless we work together on creating a better, more standardised alternative.