Nielsen dumped pageviews for "time spent." Is this a big deal?

Nielsen/NetRatings (motto: "Awkward name, slightly-less-sketchy results") is reportedly dropping pageviews as their top metric, replacing this standard measure of web traffic with "total time spent" on a site. The upshot? Google.com and YouTube.com could swap places on the list of most popular sites. This is actually a big deal and a good move, for several simple reasons.

  • Nielsen seems to be the most established Internet ratings service with advertisers, beating Comscore and Hitwise. Those two services might feel pressure to copy Nielsen's shift.
  • Web 2.0 sites often let users do more on one page. For example, a YouTube user can comment on a video without refreshing the page. The new ratings system should help sites with dynamic interaction compete against pageview-crazy sites like MySpace.
  • Of course, pageviews still matter for the bottom of the ad market, like those True.com ads that are more likely to get clicked if they serve up more photos of cute girls. But even those advertisers are using video ads that benefit from one long pageview.
  • For all these reasons, "total time spent" may feel like a more reliable metric. But it has its own problems. As one analyst says, this metric makes AOL the most popular site, thanks to its AIM service, even though many users don't see a single ad attached to that.
  • Video video video!
  • In addition to tricks to get more pageviews, now we'll have to put up with tricks to get more viewing time. Hello slow page loads!