Hear – Listen – Communicate

If HITS are for idiots – are Page Views for dummies?
December 30, 2008, 9:59 am
Filed under: Enterprise web analytics adoption

So the world’s oldest web metric is made famous by such pundits as Jim Sterne and Avinash (however, I see it EVERYWHERE online) definied as:

HITS: “How Idiots Track Success”

True, and in reality it is essentially every request made to the web server.

Within the WAA standards a Page View is defined as “an analyst definable unit of content”.

That said, are Page Views the same deal? Would a definition even help without true vendor adoption?  Should we now ignore this metric much like we did Hits?
“Romeo, Romeo” … a hit is still a hit by any other name.

Page Views used to be summed up nicely as the “number of times people view a page”. JS tracking solved all those weird hits from being counted.  A Page View was now a Page Views.  Then came “event tracking”, “Web 2.0”, click-tracking. video analytics, AJAX (enter “HTML binding” buzzword here). Now, when you as an analyt and/or dev team add these new tracking features, does the report viewing audience know these are or are not being counted? While we may agree or disagree on the actual definition the true issue is, what are YOUR profiles configured for?

While every solution has its definitions and limitations. If you are using any method to track a non traditional loading of a Even your Avg Time Viewed and Page Views per Visit are increasing.  This might make some people happy, and does show greater engagement, but is inflating many other metrics. 

This may not be an issue if you own the web analytics system, the tagging on all site, the reporting of data, etc. But if you manage a large website that may distribute data across several organizations through several profiles this is a large concern.

Implimentation Questions:

If you implement “Click-tracking” or “video-tracking” where are those hits being counted?

How would I calculate Avg Plays Per Video? Comments per Post?

If you are filtering out these events, is this the same profile users get the AVG time viewed report from?

In my next post I will both promote the great flexibility of WebTrends on how you can assure you are tracking what you need, as well as how you will need to calculate key metrics such as Total Time Viewed, Total Page Views, etc.

Thanks for listening.


5 Comments so far
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This is an interesting issue, and one that’s been brought up in the comment period (just ended) for the WAA’s new standard definition doc. (disclosure: I’m the Standards Committee co-chair, although opinions in these blog comments are my own.)

Because a “page” is an “analyst definable unit of content”, the definition is pretty wide. It doesn’t matter how that unit of content is served — whether it’s straight HTML or Flash or AJAX. It also doesn’t matter what type of tag the analyst used to record the data: a standard page view tag or event-type tagging. No matter what, an analyst should be able to determine whether s/he wants it to count in the “page view” total. I know this is true for some tools (it’s true for NetInsight, which I use right now), but am not certain about others. That’s one of the things the Standards Committee is working to find out.

In my own practice, I count activity as a “page view” if the user’s request substantially changes the content and/or function of what’s shown on their screen. There are other interactions I sometimes count that are more akin to an ad impression or button click or selection change: something I want to know about, but don’t want to inflate the page view count. We tag to ensure those remain events only.

From a Standards perspective, our challenge is this: Should we add a bunch of metrics to count all the possible uses of event tagging and/or Web 2.0 technology? Because most, if not all, of the new metrics we could invent are not currently exposed in any of our tools, everybody — vendors and practitioners alike – will have to change how they’re doing business.

Or should a standards-compliant WA tool ensure that the analyst can count any activity as a “page view” if s/he deems it appropriate? If this is the right solution, does the term “page view” carry with it too much history and too much baggage to be accepted as the more inclusive metric? Is there a better label for this metric to distinguish configurable page views from the old-school page views?

I’m very interested in other views on this.

Comment by angie

Angie, thank you so much for the pre-release post! While I did cut some of the nonsense the post message has stayed in tact. I agree, from a standards approach this is difficult. This is even more difficult from a vendor POV. The vendors have the challenge of defining, including, calculating and communicating these definitions. That said, how do you even roll out changes to such a fundamentally used metric? Luckily I don’t get paid to make those decisions, but they do impact my work.

Good point on the “too much history” on “page view I agree, but, your average Joe that is now doing “web analytics” does he know what it means? It is NOT configurable in all tools. It is also vaguly configured in others. I think the danger of Page View, as was hit, was the loose definitions based upon the unknown circumstances. (When the internet geeks told their manager the # of hits for the first time … who would of known!!

I know I still every once in a while get someone in training asking about hits. That is easy to define. When someone asks about Page View though the description should be much easier. While it is in my blessed envionment, things can get out of hand with a decentralized envionment and configuration options that may or may not be set.

Thanks again for your great reply in the early stages!

Comment by bosilytics

I have an issue with total page views. Unless you are running a content site, I find them of little value. People always want to add them into an engagement metric without really thinking about what is happening.

With a product e-com site an increase in page views could mean people are heaving a hard time finding what they need, or that they are more engaged with the brand.

I only find them useful as a metric when paired with specific questions and content.

Did x change drive more views of y type of content?

Congrats on the blog launch!

– Jon B.

Comment by Jon B

Thanks Jon I appreciate the comment. I manage the analytics service for a series of Intranet sites (a gre tmajority are content based) and I still agree it is worthless. That said, I have not been able to succesfully strike it from the hundreds of reports being distributed monthly.

Even if i could though, it is integral to so many other calculations where I can argue importance such as: PV’s per Visit (and not averages, but segmented as 1,2-5,6-10,10-30, 30+), scenario analysis reports, path analysis, Avg Length of visit (HUGE difference if you use video or interaction).

In a future post I will ramble about the technical ramifications and solutions of this issue as it pertains to WebTrends software/OnDemand.
Thanks again!

Comment by bosilytics

Thomas, so glad you’re adding your voice in a format that allows for more than 140 characters…

Re: Recent Standards kerfluffle, if web analytics heads down the “tools and technology” road, it will end up where BI has – ignored, compartmentalized, full of geeks who could not communicate a business case if they tried.

See a good outline of what happened to BI, why, and what BI is doing to try and fix this here:


We cannot let web analytics be reduced to a brawl about TECHNICAL standards; manic-ment is just going to roll their collective eyes and laugh about the children squabbling.

What we should be encouraging is analysts who:

1. Determine what it is they want to know
2. Configure or verify tool is providing same

It’s not any more complicated than that. That’s what we teach in the WAA Courses and the Standards Com absolutely did the right thing with their “analyst definable unit of content” Page View definition. If you want to argue about the name itself, how about just “Views”?

In any case, what’s needed is a Business Standard, not a Technical one. If the WA could get all the Vendors to:

1. State the definition is configurable, in the Help interface and any training classes or materials

2. Describe exactly what’s being counted and how in their tool when they use the term “Page Views”

Then you have a Standard that’s worth something.

Web Analytics is not about computers, it’s about the Humans that use computers. As far as I know, there’s no “Standard Definition” of a Human.

Personally, I hope it stays that way…

Comment by Jim Novo

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