Time spent metric doesn’t work for blogs, page views are still relevant

I’ve been contemplating metrics since Steve Rubel proclaimed the final death of the page view a little while ago.  While I’m not a fan of picking one number to judge a site’s success or failure, page views were certainly better than “hits” ( How Idiots Track Success).  Visits, as they are presently calculated, have always been problematic for me.  Too much potential for flaky results.  Nielsen has now decided a “time spent” metric is the gold standard for sites, ending the era of the page view forever…or has it.  Personally I think time spent is an absolutely lousy measure for blogs.  People come to my blog (or virtually any blog), read the post, and leave.  Done.  I’m not the only one who is thinking this…

Now comes word that Nielsen is moving to “time spent” as the default metric for reporting. Sounds good right? So if someone spends 10 minutes on my site, and only 5 on yours, my site should appear to rank higher, correct? Let’s push out the easy issue here which is that sites are sometimes hard to navigate which will artifically raise your time spent on site. If you and I serve the same content but it’s 40% easier to find it on my site vs. yours, then you appear bigger. Love that! Now we will see half-assed sites coming out just to scam this “new” metric.

Here is the real issue. We need to go back to the drawing board, erase everything we know about metrics and analytics and start over. Using a metric that has already been used and abused won’t cut it. But Nielsen knows where their bread is buttered and when companies like Microsoft change their web site to reduce pageviews by 30-40% (by my estimation), the page views metric would have to be changed to satisfy their clients. Source: Page views or time spent – hey Nielsen, both are worthless – CenterNetworks – News, Reviews, Insights and Interviews

To take the problem further, Andy Beal notes that tabbed browsing throws a wrench into the works.  Like Andy I usually have a bunch of tabs open in Firefox.  Right now it’s eight.  I usually keep them open all day … and if I don’t close Firefox or reboot, even longer.  So did I really spend two days on GigaOm?  Of course not, and a little analysis can scrub out the outliers.

I wish I had a brilliant answer that would give bloggers a new metrics, but I think page views are pretty good for us.  I also, as you know, stress looking at pattens in your data.  Don’t look at the numbers, what are the trends saying.  That will tell you more about the health of your blog.  For advertisers, time spent doesn’t give them a scale of how many eyeballs their ads will reach.

I have a feeling that in a few months Nielsen is going to realize that time spent only matches a few sites and the sites that wield influence are still best measured by page views.

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