10 February 2007

Ajax vs. page views – web metrics vs. usability [USA Today]

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At Yahoo’s finance site, stock quotes update automatically and continually, the numbers flashing green and red as prices rise and fall. Wall Street investors can easily leave a single Web page up all day.

Ajax — the software trick used on the page, Yahoo’s e-mail service and elsewhere — is enabling flashier, more convenient sites. It’s also contributing to Yahoo’s decline in page views, a yardstick long used for bragging rights and advertising sales.

“These technologies have outgrown the metrics,” said Peter Daboll, Yahoo’s chief of insights and the former chief executive of comScore Media Metrix, the measurement company that declared Yahoo second to the online hangout MySpace in page views. “It’s really important as an industry to come back down to earth and off this chest-thumping about who’s biggest.”

More important than “truckloads of page views,” Daboll said, are visitors’ loyalty and their willingness to respond to ads — qualities harder to measure. If a page updates on its own without reloading in its entirety, people may be sticking around longer than the measurements suggest.

Experts say the stubborn attachment to page views also may be keeping some sites from improving their usability.

Jakob Nielsen, a Web design expert with Nielsen Norman Group, notes that many news sites force visitors to click multiple times to read longer stories in sections, even though he would much prefer scrolling down a long story and avoiding interruptions. […]

Jesse James Garrett, the Adaptive Path president who publicly coined the “Ajax” term two years ago, suggests scrapping page views entirely.

“Page views have been a broken metric for a long time, and the industry has tried to put a good face on that,” he said. “Now a new technology has come along to force the industry to deal with the fact that page views are … not a good way of measuring audience engagement.”

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