I came across this story online about how Nielsen/NetRatings is going to drop its normal website rankings that use page views as a metric, and change to user session length instead. Much of this has to do with the advent of AJAX, with content loading on the same “page” and thus not being counted in the page views statistic Nielsen/NetRatings currently uses.
Forget how this impacts the current online leaders (the article says it will hurt Google, and in the same breath says it will help YouTube, go figure), I just found it interesting that they were still using page views as their main metric. While we certainly keep track of them here, we tend to put much more weight into user sessions. Take for example this comparison of page views vs. user sessions on our website, from Feb. ’07:
Page Views: 347,258
User Sessions: 2,581
Page Views: 305,609
User Sessions: 105,387
Notice the difference? Our tickets website had more page views than our blogs did, but only 2% of the user sessions. Why? Well, it’s mainly because there are many more pages in our ticketing system to go through to place an order, as well as a few iframes here and there that just inflates the page count. By itself, one would think looking at the page views that tickets was the more popular site, but in reality many more people visit our blogs.
Like any statistic it’s important to look at multiple sets of data to come to a conclusion. With these two metrics we can not only find the depth of our visitors but also the breadth. Blog users don’t seem to dig as much, perhaps because they don’t have to compared to what’s required in a ticketing system checkout process, or perhaps because they haven’t found anything interesting to read and leave!
This is where Nielsen has made their change. Instead of just looking at simple page numbers (which is important to advertisers to count “impressions” of ads), they’re now wanting to see how long someone has spent on a website. This means the trend has changed from the number of impressions, to the overall impression length.
We also keep track of user session length on our websites. And again when combined with the other metrics, it adds another layer of info we can use to determine the relative success and weakness of our sites. Here are the user session lengths of the above sites for the same time period, in seconds:
Session Length (secs): 589
Session Length (secs): 281
Probably what you would expect. It took a lot longer for those users on tickets to weed through all those pages to place their order. However if you look at the ratio of users to page views for each site, and then look at the session length, you’ll notice that blog readers spend more time on each page during their sessions.
Ave. Secs./Page: 4.4
Ave. Secs./Page: 96.9
Obviously the tickets time is a bit skewed, because of iframes, robots and the like, but this shows that people do spend much more time on average on each page on our blog website than on tickets, even though the overall session length on blogs is less. This is good, it means people are getting through the ticketing software quickly, even with all the pages to load, and it also means people are actually staying on our blogs and (hopefully) reading.
Session length can also show us popular sites we may have otherwise missed. Take our Walker Channel from the same period:
Page Views: 21,596
User Sessions: 6,732
Session Length (secs): 574
Ave Secs/Page: 179
The user sessions on our channel aren’t super high, at least not in comparison to some of our other sites, and neither are the page views. However, the session length, and more importantly, the number of secs users spent per page is very high. Those people who do visit the Walker Channel like to spend a lot of time there. Perhaps this is something we should put more time into, to drive more users to this content? In fact, that’s exactly what we are starting to work on.