Can “Visits” Really Replace Pageviews?

I got a message from our Managing Director into what direction we are heading to in terms of web analytics. He then sent me a link pointing to a “newly” adopted web metric (*roll the drums*): visits (note the similarity of the title with this blog entry) .

We know that web analytics is SEO/SEMs best friend. They justify the success of our SEO and online marketing efforts if they show progress in a quantitative way and prove our ineffectiveness if traffic keeps spiraling down the line. Yet a wrong interpretation of data leads to wrong set of recommendations that lead to wrong implementation that could end in a disastrous — or mysterious — results.

Remember when we used to fondly place stats counter on our Geocities or Angelfire homepages? Often labeled as “visitors” or perhaps “hits”, those numbers probably represent pageviews if they increment every loading of the page.

Now, it’s easier to find a clearer view of what each of these web analytics metrics mean and how do they impact the behavior of visitors or online marketing campaigns we run. There are numerous web analytics glossaries available online.

But our definition skills are beginning to become useless once these measurements become obsolete as the web undergoes transformation. We never thought of Web 2.0, AJAX or RSS feeds not too long ago. They are the very reasons that changed the way we look at our numbers.

Before we merely look at singular pieces of web pages and measure how many visits or duration of stay and that was it. Then when a shopping cart made of Flash came to exist, it becomes more difficult to determine how many impressions did one product get or what are the visitors’ common paths before they exit the site. Enter Web 2.0’s AJAX era, where pages don’t need to be reloaded to update their content.

Newer approaches on the web require newer methods of measuring their performance. So comScore finally recognized the importance of visits as a metric suitable for tracking user engagement.

I believe it’s not because pageview measurement becomes outdated that “visits” becomes the de facto web metrics of choice; pages that use traditional HTML format will never disappear unless browsers stop showing them. And they will continue to effectively count how many pages a visitor visits in every browser session.

It’s therefore a good thing to recognize that since AJAX is different and must use different means of measurement.

Of course “visits” has its own issues. It cannot guarantee accuracy. If I have a tabbed set of pages that I allow to stay “open” without bothering to actually look at its content, will it be considered an effective visit? It is thought that instead of measuring pageviews, it will be better to track how many times a visitor comes back to the site. A good example to this is Yahoo! Sites. Everyday I go across different Yahoo! sites (Mail, Groups, News, My Yahoo!), switching one site with the others. Measuring the engagement level will tell if our site has been “addictive” (visitors keep on coming back) as opposed to “sticky” (visitors staying for several minutes every visit”).

So “visits” is not a new way anymore, it was just a widely ignored means of measurement. It should not replace pageviews simply because it could not count the number of page views. Instead it should be treated as a supplementary information that can coexist with its sibling.

So I’d like to answer the question that I placed in the title: NO.