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What matters more? Engagement or pageviews?

There continues to be a really interesting debate on the value of engagement versus raw pageviews. For anyone who hasn’t been following it, the summary is that:

  1. People used to watch 3 TV channels
  2. Now they watch network, cable, YouTube, XM, mobile, IM, etc., which is called "media fragmentation"
  3. This means that the scarce commodity is not media time, but rather, the attention of people

The question then, becomes, how do you measure intangible things like attention and engagement?

Whereas most online media is currently bought by the raw number of ad impressions, a more favorable measurement would be the amount of time people spend on a given page. Although it’ll take years for media-buying to go down this direction, using this sort of evidence would be a huge boon for online publishers to get more of those brand ad dollars.

Here are two interesting articles that call out the debate:
First, an analysis on Yahoo versus MySpace, and relative pageview value: The Economics of Content.

So Yahoo’s pageviews—despite trending lower—are therefore worth more to advertisers than those on MySpace. However, if advertisers and social networks can get better at leveraging traffic to build deeper connections – and be able to somehow measure that engagement – with users, the pageview/uniques ratio may diminish in importance, Adweek concludes, noting that the above numbers represent “the ultimate technological expression of word-of-mouth, where people make connections to other people, entertainment and services through the most massive chat rooms ever built. And most of the online ad industry’s metrics don’t really get at that.”

Another great blog is from an EIR in Boston, Nabeel Hyatt, who’s doing some interesting stuff in online games. He writes about the attention being spent on games (lots!) versus the pageviews generated:

This is happening at the same time as a movement of folks calling for
the end of measuring page impressions, and calling for measuring time
instead (see Evan, Fred Wilson, and Steve Rubel).
If Flash, Ajax, and widgets really cause the industry to start
measuring properties by time spent instead of impressions, I would
argue that the attention to the gaming category is going to go through
the roof.

Either way, it’ll be very interesting to see this movement develop, in particular as AJAX and Flash become even more commonplace. Brand buying on the internet must adjust, and my guess is that it’ll be great for the overall online ad market.

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