Bye-bye Page Views, Hello Total Minutes

Web statistics are getting a makeover. Yesterday, Nielsen//NetRatings, a leading provider of Internet stats, announced it will switch from primarily basing Web site usage metrics on the traditional page view to two new units of measure, total minutes and total sessions. The online research firm said that the new yardsticks more efficiently describe user activity on the Net in today's environment in which people are increasingly viewing material that no longer fits the description of a typical Web page, such as messaging, videos, and multimedia. The move could dramatically alter the landscape of online advertising.

The firm that pioneered the television ratings system said in its announcement that, while Rich Internet Application (RIA) technologies such as Ajax and streaming media are enhancing the consumer experience via a phenomenon called Web 2.0 (think of YouTube), they pose challenges to Internet audience measurement. Ajax refreshes content without reloading entire pages and streaming provides dynamically changing content within a single page or a media player. While a page view metric under-credits such engagement, Nielsen//NetRatings said, the total minutes metric provides a common denominator for user behavior that is independent of site design.

"Total minutes is the best engagement metric in this initial stage of Web 2.0 development, not only because it ensures fair measurement of Web sites using RIA and streaming media, but also of Web environments that have never been well-served by the page view, such as online gaming and Internet applications," said Scott Ross, director of product marketing for the NetView service from Nielsen//NetRatings.

The Oldsmar, Fla., firm cited the example of the discrepancy in usage metrics between the social networking sites MySpace and YouTube, in which the time spent ratio is 3.6 to 1.0, but the ratio of page views is much larger, at 10.4 to 1.0. YouTube visitors spend more time per page than MySpace, because they are primarily watching videos, requiring fewer page refreshes. While MySpace may be able to serve more ads because of its number of page refreshes, the time-spent ratio is an important comparison of audience engagement on the two sites, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

The firm then reorganized its list of the leading properties on the Web by total minutes and found that the ranks of the Top Ten brands had slightly changed. As of May, statistics measured by minutes showed that AOL Media Network, Yahoo!, and MSN/Windows Live led the standings. These global properties were followed by Fox Interactive Media, Google, eBay, Microsoft, EA Electronic Arts Online, Apple, and YouTube.

As the Web changes, with new functionality seeming to spring up every year, look for further changes in the ways research analysts measure its usage. It's another sign of the times.

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