July 12, 2007
Nielsen/NetRatings Replaces a Simplistic Model with...Another One

Nielsen is not just making changes to its television program ratings and commercial ratings systems. As I have already written about this month, Nielsen recently purchased mobile research firm Telephia, as the company looks to bolster its Nielsen Wireless Initiative for mobile content audience measurement. See more on that purchase here.

Now, Nielsen has announced that it will be changing the way in which it measures the popularity of Web sites. We here at C3 are gearing up for a year of talking about the stickiness model in terms of Web traffic and how it is, in many ways, still fixed in prior ways of thinking. Nielsen does not agree, or else it sees value in keeping a system as close to the current one as it can find.

Their shift is going from measuring the popularity of a Web site from total number of page views to one that measures instead time spent. The change has particularly been attributed to the rising popularity of online video, which might keep a viewer on a particular page for quite a while instead of clicking through an increasing number of links.

The measure will be of "total sessions" and "total minutes," for the new Nielsen/NetRatings.

On the m-net site, Ken Lewis writes:

The Page View figure has until now been the key metric for advertisers, but this is becoming increasingly misleading as the internet diversifies. For example, blogs may only be visited once a day by a reader, but the time spent there might be much longer, increasingly the likelihood he or she will click on specific types of advertising. However, search sites like Google might be visited many times a day from the same computer, but only for short periods. Similarly, video sites like YouTube will see completely different online behaviour with readers staying on a page for long periods as they view video clips.

I have to again emphasize, though, that a model in which time spent on a page is a measure of popularity might need to be thought through as well. I agree with Nielsen and the sentiments of many others that page views is not the best indicator of popularity for a site and for data for advertisers, but I'm quite a bit more reticent to move to this "time spent" model wholeheartedly. I think the key is that it's just not as simple for one quantifiable metric to explain all in terms of popularity, but that is the business Nielsen is in, so of course they will continue to try.