If you hate yourself and your readers, measure pageviews

  • 8 August 2013

Be careful what you measure, the saying goes—it might get improved.

Today, online media is mostly measuring pageviews and, accordingly, optimizing for them. Josh Sternberg wrote about the downsides of this at Digiday yesterday, but the three examples of user-hostile design in his article are just the tip of the iceberg. He could just as easily have listed thirty different ways publications are destroying user experience, all in the name of pageviews.

People wouldn’t be doing this unless they attributed value to pageviews. But pageviews only have inherent value when advertising is sold on a per-view basis—a practice that both publishers and advertisers agree has outlived its usefulness.

Traditional web display advertising, paid per view, is like Wile E. Coyote off the edge of a cliff. The fall is past due and everyone can see it—even the coyote himself.

In our tablet magazine product Maggio, essentially no advertising is sold on a CPM basis and because of this we have no reason to optimize for clicks or pageviews. Instead, we optimize for time spent. It is a much better proxy for true reader engagement.

The interesting thing here is that the actions you take to optimize for time spent vs pageviews are often exact opposites. Like Josh’s article detailed, optimizing for pageviews can and will be damaging to user experience. Endless links and extra features obviously drive clicks and pageviews, but they also drive people away.

When per-view pricing goes away, pageviews as a performance indicator will go with it. It is simply an irrelevant data point—even as an editorial vanity metric it does more harm than good.

When you methodically optimize for a measurement, the danger is always that you are climbing towards a local maxima rather than the highest peak out there. But if the basis of measurement is all wrong, like it is with page views, the danger is much worse: you can discover that instead of climbing at all, you have spent years digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole.