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Pageviews are dead … and Miley Cyrus killed them.

We’re making a big change at Mediavine – the main overall RPM we focus on optimizing is shifting from pageviews to sessions.

Why?

Because pageviews are dead and Miley Cyrus killed them.

Wait… what?

To me, nothing better explains why the Internet has officially killed the value of a pageview than this hilarious Onion article about CNN running Miley Cyrus’ VMA Performance slideshow as their top story.

In short, it’s satire of the obsession with the click-bait slideshows that have destroyed even reputable news sources, all in the pursuit of a higher pageview count.

However, the issue is that in that pursuit, we have destroyed the actual value behind a pageview.

What do I mean?

Using a pageview to equally describe the value of a reader leisurely scrolling through a full 500-word article on your site, or a reader that clicks a single button fifteen times to move to the next slide over and over, is inaccurate at best.

Those two users had completely different experiences on your site, engaged very differently with your content, AND with your ads.

They are not equal in the eyes of viewability, time on site, or engagement. So why would we use the same unit of measurement to calculate them?

If we continue to use pageviews – those two actions are the same in our eyes.

You can search the web for “pageviews are dead” and find articles from over a decade ago. So why am I covering this now, and why do I think I can change your mind?

Because it’s 2017. Let’s do it. Let’s REALLY kill the pageview as a unit of measure.

We’re definitely as guilty as any one of our publishers for obsessing over pageviews. It’s time we put these poor things out of their misery.

In that slideshow example hilariously used by The Onion, Miley Cyrus let CNN multiply its pageviews by THIRTEEN.

Think that deception only exists in the world of satire? During a test of using slideshows as a type of content on The Hollywood Gossip, we once got a user to go through 200+ slides.

But those 200 extra pageviews lead to poor viewability of our ads, terrible user experience, and in short, divided our income up into tiny little fractions of time that were not worth it to our advertisers.

Moreover, this experiment often alienated our readers by diluting the user experience, making them click a button over and over again for a single piece of content.

There’s also the wild inconsistency of how pageviews are calculated.

I’m going to say something controversial now, and it’s in the vein of satire. I absolutely do NOT want you to do this.

Manipulating pageviews is far easier than creating click-baity slideshows, and I can prove it.

Anyone can inflate their pageviews just by telling the Analytics Tracker to count them a different way.

Much like you can change how bounce rate is calculated, you can use the following code to tell your site to send an additional pageview count to your tracker for every second a user is on your site.

Up to a “reasonable” 200. Just put this code anywhere in your post body and that’s exactly what will happen if you happen to be running Google Analytics:


<script>
var i = 1;
const timer = setInterval(function(){
i++;
ga('set', 'page', '/page/' + String(i));
ga('send', 'pageview');
if (i > 200) {
clearInterval(timer);
}
}, 1000);
</script>

Okay, so that’s a dramatic way to make my point, but that’s how exactly how meaningless pageviews can be. And when you think about it, that’s effectively what manual clicks from a slideshow are doing too. You’re just alienating your reader to manipulate the count, instead of writing code.

It’s triggering a whole new pageview, but a reader isn’t REALLY consuming a whole extra page of content. They’re simply trying to get to another part of that existing pageview.

What numbers should we care about?

Funny enough, there’s been a better metric by Google Analytics staring you in the face. In fact, Google has been begging you to move away from pageviews for years, and you probably never noticed.

Don’t believe us? Log into your dashboard in Google Analytics. What metric is that initial overview chart showing you? What’s the very first number they show you?

Sessions. Sessions are the number you should care about.

Sessions are defined in Google Analytics as each time a user comes to your site. An additional session is only created for a user if they visit another page after 30 minutes of inactivity, or came back to visit from a different source, or referrer.

Translation?

A user coming to visit your site to read a recipe, slideshow or blogpost. That whole experience is the session.

They may be on a single page for 5 minutes, or they may click around for a while, looking at multiple posts. Two different behaviors, but because they’re interacting with content meaningfully, the “session” measurement better puts this in context.

As someone who owns an ad-supported content website, there are only a handful of measurable things we care about for our how people visit us.

  1. How many users came uniquely to a piece of content on our site? A session is a great indication of this. Much better than pageview, which could double or triple if a user first came to the homepage, and then had to click a few pages to find what they wanted. We care about knowing the user is getting the content they wanted from the outset.
  2. How much did they consume on our site? Session Duration will show you how engaged your audience is. Would you rather have a user reading one page for 2 minutes or 2 pages for 10 seconds each? The latter is what slideshows were doing. Two minutes on a single post is clearly a more engaged reader.
  3. Did they sign up for our newsletter, push notification, etc? For these we recommend using “Events” to track, if you’re running Google Analytics and setting a “goal.”
  4. How much did a user make us in ad revenue? For this, our dashboard now features a Session RPM to paint this accurate picture.

We know that last one is a bit of a doozy.

At Mediavine, as part of our commitment to how the session measurement better tells the story, and better understanding our traffic, we’ve officially moved from focusing on a RPM calculated based on pageviews to one focused on sessions.

You will still be earning the exact same amount. We track ad impressions completely separate from any of your site analytics. We’re only changing one portion of the RPM equation which compares revenue to traffic to give you benchmark of how your site is earning.

Now before you say, that’s not RPM – it actually is.

RPM is revenue per thousand impressions. What it’s not, is a Page RPM. It’s a Session RPM and it’s much more valuable to us for optimizing your site and it should be much more important for you to optimize your site, user experience and revenue.

Let’s give a real world example to explain. Imagine a world where some large, all-powerful social network requires you to spend advertising dollars boosting your posts in order to reach your followers.

If you were basing your data off a $10.00 Page RPM and were sending those users to a slideshow where the average user clicks through 5 pages, you’d be making a $50.00 RPM right? 5 x 10 = 50. That means you could spend up to $50 to buy 1000 users or pay up to $0.05, right?

Not unless you want to go out of business.

Out Of Business

 

The fallacy with that math is that it’s assuming each pageview is worth the same as the previous one, when the truth is that the more pages a user consumes, the less they’re worth (that’s a whole separate blog post).

If instead you focused on Session RPM, you’d know what each click from Pinterest, Facebook, or your mailing list is really worth. In this case, you’d know your true Session RPM might only be $12.00.

In this case, you’d suddenly only be able to pay $12 to buy 1000 users, or $0.012 a click. That’s quite the difference. At scale, you just saved your business.

Beyond just knowing what you could pay to advertise, it’s a more important number to think about in your head – what 1000 visitors coming to your site makes you, not 1000 pageviews (which could be produced by 800 people or 50, if you’re employing that little script I shared above) will make.

Breaking yourself of the Pageview RPM and focusing on a Session RPM will let you focus on how get more users, rather than trying to alter the experience of the ones you have. If you need a metric of how well those users are consuming your content, focus on their average session duration.

This is not to say that the Session is the ONLY valuable metric. Analytics are complex, and there are different ways to measure things for a reason. Individual pageviews are still valuable. Pages per session is a very useful metric to help you measure how many pieces of your content a user is seeing.

Information is valuable, but the obsession with pageviews is leading to content formatting tricks that aren’t good for anyone. Not readers. Not site owners. And not advertisers.

We know all changes take time to embrace and not everyone will, which is why we’re offering both calculations for the time being. You’ll be able to toggle between Session RPM and Page RPM.


However, we will no longer be judging our success based on pageviews. Instead, let’s shift to focusing on how we can maximize both user experience and revenue. Neither of which are directly benefited by more pageviews.


We’re also changing the qualifications for being able to join Mediavine. We used to require 30,000 pageviews. Now, we’ll be asking you for your sessions, and we’re requiring that a site have 25,000 sessions per month to join Mediavine.

That’s how seriously we take this change. Once you see how much more valuable sessions are for gauging success, we encourage you to start sharing sessions in your reporting to brands for sponsored work. Help educate everyone in your influencer sphere.

Let’s kill the pageview once and for all.

12 thoughts on “Pageviews are dead … and Miley Cyrus killed them.”

  1. I can see how slideshows like the one your describe as well as the script don’t make for a good reader experience or in the case of scripts, an accurate measure of reader engagement.

    On the other hand, using only sessions as a measurement seems to me to not take into account the difference between someone who visits and then bounces away (therefore not even having a chance to even see the ads) and a visitor who arrives, reads all the way through a well paginated post with effective calls to action and during that time would have a much longer opportunity to notice the ad.

    1. Nicole Johnson says:

      That will be reflected in the Session duration, as well as the bounce rate.

    2. Eric Hochberger says:

      Exactly as Nicole mentioned above. We’re not implying you should ONLY use sessions as a measurement. We’re saying you shouldn’t be using ONLY pageviews. We would instead focus your efforts on the session experience and use things such as session duration, pages / session and goals as a measurement if that session was a success. Pageviews are only part of the story and you’re missing things if that’s the only number you focus on.

  2. I thought it was good to have readers stay on your website and click to other pages? Are you saying you would rather have more people visit a site but potentially leave after 30 seconds than have fewer people visit but stay around and click from one post to another? In the first case, they are producing sessions, in the second case they are producing page views. To me the second scenario sounds like a more engaged reader.

    (Yes, obviously you prefer that more visit and stay longer, but the shorter visit still counts as a session, whereas a visitor who pokes around a bit creating more page views is certainly more engaged.)

    1. Heather Tullos says:

      Hi Lory!

      The way our ads are set up on your page is actually aimed at them sticking around and being engaged with your content. The sessions measure is an extension of that same train of thought. It helps you more accurately measure how valuable each reader is. You are correct that a reader that comes to visit your site, visits 2 pages, subscribes to your email list, and pins a couple of things is better for you (and your income) than a reader that bounces in from Pinterest, only stays long enough to verify that the pin matches the post, and then leaves again. And you are right that both readers generated only one session.

      The difference is that the first reader increased the session length and decreased your bounce rate. And when they took the time to subscribe, they will come back tomorrow and generate another session. That first reader was also served more impressions, and so they definitely earned you more. When you take into account viewability (because that’s a factor in how advertisers decide to spend on your site), then the engaged reader that is served more impressions is helping your CPM for each ad spot as well.

      1. I agree with that, but then it’s inaccurate to say that only sessions matter and page views don’t, which is exactly what people are saying and quoting this article as proof. (Likely because that’s exactly what your title intimates.)

        You said “the first reader increased the session length and decreased your bounce rate”. Yes, they did this by increasing page views. You may not be calling it that, but that’s exactly what you’re describing.

        Perhaps one might get the same effect if the visitor was either a very slow reader and stayed on one page or the phone rang and they walked away from the screen, but in any case, I don’t see the advantage to staying on one page over visiting multiple pages.

        Finally, I don’t get why unique visitors are more valuable than return visitors. Sometimes it takes more than one impression to buy. What am I missing?

        1. Eric Hochberger says:

          Hey Lory,

          I don’t think we mean to say that only sessions matter and page views don’t. Headlines are meant to be a bit shocking and over exaggerated.

          Our primary message here is obsessing over your site’s total pageviews isn’t painting the full picture. Nor would JUST be looking at sessions and just swapping the two. We’re simply encouraging you to look to sessions as your new primary metric, but supplementing it with other metrics about your site for the full picture. In fact, pages / session are one of the metrics you should look at for your success.

          Most of us are content creators and aren’t running Facebook. Our goals should be realistic. Bring a user to your site and focus on their experience with that page. Did they finish reading the article, did they find more content they wanted to consume (that second pageview), or did they sign up for our newsletter or share our post?

          Obsessing over getting that one user to click on 10+ pageviews in a slideshow or jumping through hoops to finish reading the content they came for isn’t a useful user experience, nor stat. However, if your sole metric was pageviews that would become the goal. That’s our point. Look beyond the pageview.

          Unfortunately, from an advertiser perspective, unique visitors are more valuable than return users because that extends their “reach.” However, I don’t think that’s our claim with this article. A repeat visitor that comes back is a second session and therefore just as valuable with his new primary metric.

  3. Karen says:

    I always thought Unique Visitors and Sessions made more sense than Pageviews since unique visitors visiting the site means more exposure than one visitor clicking thru multiple pages at one visit. As a media buyer, I’d prefer the Session model. But as a blogger, this could mean less income, unless you calibrate the pricing structure accordingly.

    1. Eric Hochberger says:

      Definitely agree that unique visitors and sessions are more valuable to advertisers as well. From a blogger’s perspective, this can and should mean the same amount of income. Ads are paid on an impression basis and are not tied directly to sessions or pageviews. We simply calculate a RPM based off those concept so we can measure overall success of how optimizations are going.

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