On Tuesday, Techcrunch reported that MySpace has semi-officially overtaken Yahoo as having the most page views of any internet property. This revelation was met with moderate fanfare, and other prominent industry blogs like GigaOm and Searchblog did not even go there. There is good reason to take this news with a grain of salt, as it is misrepresentative and hides some very important facts.
Do Page Views Matter?
Page views are a useful metric for judging the volume of interaction with a web site, but comparing page views can also lead to erroneous conclusions. Let’s explore some common pitfalls.
MySpace and Inflated Page Views
In the user interaction and usability world, much has been made of the lackluster user experience of MySpace. Indeed, many technophiles and designers cannot understand why so many people actually use MySpace despite the fact that it is aesthetically unappealing, slow, and riddled with vestigial clicks. This is a fascinating enigma with complex answers, but the important thing to consider from a marketing standpoint is the vestigial clicks. It has been suggested that MySpace is in no hurry to streamline navigation because the current information architecture inflates page views. And it seems many analysts and industry watchers keep falling for this trick.
Although a brilliant marketing move on the part of MySpace, it should be a big red flag that each user is taken to a marketing splash page and is forced to navigate to their own profile page. Other social networking web sites take users directly to their profile page upon logging in.
Another important point that has to be made is that MySpace is very static while many of Yahoo’s web services are dynamic. By using AJAX based techniques, Yahoo has a number of dynamic web pages and applications in which all of the interactivity happens on one or a handful of pages. Yahoo Mail is a perfect example of this. Technically speaking, the user never leaves a single web page while reading and composing messages. On the other hand, the MySpace experience requires users to go to no fewer than three discrete pages to send a message and get back to the profile.
Declining Page Views Are Great
By making services such as Yahoo Mail more dynamic and self-contained, Yahoo made a very conscious effort to reduce page views to better the user experience and increase user lifetime. What matters is not how many page views Yahoo’s users generate but how long they stay on their web properties, how long they will be loyal to those services, and how many ads are displayed per average session as well as their CPM (cost per one thousand ad impressions).
Show Me the Money
From a business or investor perspective, the ultimate litmus test for any investment is its propensity to generate revenue. Therefore, even if MySpace generates 5% more page views than Yahoo but the CPM of corresponding page views is 50% less, Yahoo is still by far the stronger of the two. We don’t have numbers for the average CPM for current Yahoo properties, but its valuation of Facebook–a popular social networking web site similar to MySpace–estimates eCPM to be $0.42 for 2006. The total ad revenue is roughly the total number of ad impressions multiplied by their CPM, so the other piece of the puzzle is the total number of ad impressions.
Page Views vs. Ad Impressions
Page views are not commensurate to ad impressions. As stated above, multiple ads can be displayed on one page during one session, as is true for Yahoo Mail and other highly dynamic, AJAX-based web services. Even static pages often display multiple impressions for the same ad units to maximize their click-through rates. In other words, ads often rotate while a user is on one page.
Given these two facts, what really matters is the average number of ad impressions per user rather then the average page views. As the web evolves page views are becoming more and more meaningless. A much more telling metric is the average amount of time that a user spends on a web site or web service. Although, this can also be inaccurate because users can have Gmail open in the background while surfing elsewhere or doing other things. I believe the ultimate measure of interactivity is a combination of time spent on a web site, the number of clicks generated by the unique user, as well as the number of ad impressions generated in that period. (Of course, this applies to web sites that generate revenue by advertising.)
Nielsen NetRatings produced a very interesting report in May surveying the total time that users spent on popular web sites. For example, the average times spent on MySpace, Yahoo, Google, MSN, and AOL are as follows:
|Brand||Time Per Person
As is evident from the table, Yahoo had quite an edge on MySpace, MSN and especially Google.
Enough with the Hype Already
Undoubtedly, MySpace continues to grow and is here to stay as a hugely important player in the internet game. It is exciting to see who is growing and who is struggling, but let’s forget all the empty hype of page views and pull ourselves away from obsessively observing who will have the highest page views this week. The real question that we should be asking is who will find the magic formula of attracting, engaging, and retaining users that will ultimately lead to the highest levels of success.