Why websites shouldn’t optimize for page views

From What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong by Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile:

For 20 years, publishers have been chasing pageviews. The more pageviews a site gets, the more people are reading, the more successful the site. Or so we thought. Chartbeat looked at deep user behavior across 2 billion visits across the web over the course of a month and found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. The stats get a little better if you filter purely for article pages, but even then one in every three visitors spend less than 15 seconds reading articles they land on.

The media world is currently in a frenzy about click fraud. They should be even more worried about the large percentage of the audience who aren’t reading what they think they’re reading.

Research across the Chartbeat network has shown that if you can hold a visitor’s attention for just three minutes they are twice as likely to return than if you only hold them for one minute.

The most valuable audience is the one that comes back. Those linkbait writers are having to start from scratch every day trying to find new ways to trick clicks from hicks with the ‘Top Richest Fictional Public Companies’. Those writers living in the Attention Web are creating real stories and building an audience that comes back.

(1) Pageviews as a metric is similar to monthly uniques, because neither put adequate weight on user loyalty. Pageviews from a passer by are counted the same as pageviews from a returning visitor. And monthly uniques counts someone who visits once a month the same as someone who visits 30 times that month.
(2) Our key metric at Seeking Alpha is daily, direct users. “Daily” gives you credit for returning visitors, and “direct” only counts people who come for your product and brand, not people who came because they were enticed to click on a syndicated or shared headline.
(3) Cf. (i) An insider’s view of what happens when you optimize for pageviews, (ii) Are advertisers responsible for pageview chasing by media websites?, (iii) Why pageview-driven websites succumb to herd-thinking,  (iv) The corrosive impact of pageviews as the target metric for content websites and (v) What happens when a content site stops optimizing for page views?.

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