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Friday, March 16, 2007

New "Visits" Metric: Pro and Con

(via Searchviews) comScore begins touting a new metric, "visits," that allows a second visit and a third to be counted from a single user if that visit is more than 30 minutes after the previous one.

OK, well first of all, the concept of a visit is far from new. But let's run with it any way.

On the "pro" side, it's going to be vitally important to look at new measures of attention online. Time spent, and yes, visits, are key metrics because of the so-called death of the page view. New presentation methods such as AJAX will mean it's harder to measure pageviews (or impressions), and that makes it hard to fairly price advertising. I'd add that this is a good development in that content sites sometimes or often chopped up their articles unduly, or otherwise engineered a navigation model that actually produced more pageviews per visit. Should that be considered "more ad inventory" or not? Clearly we have always been dealing in nebulous concepts of user attention and some online advertising is well overpriced and some underpriced.

On the "con" side, I'll refer you to the perennial problem of sites gaming their traffic; or again, simply engineering more of what they have for sale. Valleywag's been relentless in poking holes in those who use small tricks to pump up the volume of what they're selling. The concept of visits is going to be unduly exploited by some sites, inevitably.

In the end, happy advertisers will be happy advertisers, and overpriced advertising will disappoint. But we do a disservice to clients if we don't continue to probe these various metrics for, shall we say, the "gaming opportunities" they might provide for some publishers.

Is "visits" better than uninformative stats like "reach"? Absolutely. Publishers and agencies have no business selling "reach." I'd rather see us be looking at a multifaceted stats package for pricing ads, like a quarterback rating (comprised of pageviews, time spent, heat mapping, and a list of various other stats). Or that could be considered at least a method of providing a third-party "scorecard" for how users work with a given website; of what type of audience and attention you're dealing with. You hear a lot of tough talk about third party advertising "audits," but that misses the point. You're not selling something that is ever 100% quantifiable, as the death of the page view shows. So as an industry I'd love to see us innovate, use scorecards, and explain the value of targeting.

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