Page views mean so much

Technically, a page view means that an HTML page was rendered by a web browser. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not always. Here are a few other things that a page view could mean.

  • Confusing navigation: If your site is built in a way that makes it hard for visitors to find what they’re looking for, each page view could represent a level of user frustration.
  • Poor search: If your site’s search engine doesn’t work well, then some page views represent lists of unsuccessful search results.
  • Pagination: If your articles are split into multiple web pages, then each part of the article counts as a page view.
  • Media files: Is each picture or video on your site served on its own page? That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just keep that in mind when analyzing your traffic.
  • Hack: Two years ago, one of my blog posts received an undeserved spike of  12,000 page views when a URL-shortening service was hacked. Admittedly, you probably won’t run into this problem.

Please read Page views: bad metric #3 by Dana Chinn for a much more thorough explanation of the problems with the page view metric.

This is the last of a series of three posts about page views. The first installment was Page views mean so little. The second was Use page views wisely.

Use page views wisely

Fortune cookie reads: You have an unusual equipment for success, use it properly.

A page view is only one metric and it literally means only one thing: an HTML page was rendered by a web browser. The number of views that a page generates is valuable only if you understand how to use it. If your article or blog post is viewed more than the average post, don’t just pat yourself on the back, use your analytics program to dig up related data to provide the context necessary to figure out what to do next.

  • Referring page: Did another web page drive people to that blog post? Visit that site. Subscribe to its RSS feed. Read the post that linked to yours. Read the comments. If appropriate, contribute to that conversation. Find out the author’s name. Find and follow her on Twitter. Thank the writer for mentioning and linking to your post.
  • Search keywords: Did people get to your post from a search engine? What were they looking for when they found it? You might be surprised to find that it wasn’t what you thought was the most important part of your story. Investigate those topics and find out why people were so interested in it. There could be a good follow-up post for you to write.
  • Previous page: Did readers get to the popular post after visiting another part of your site? What was the page that readers were on before getting to your post? Was it a tag or category archive page? If so, make sure all related posts are properly categorized and/or tagged. Was the previous page another blog post or article? If not, you need to start linking to related content on your site.
  • Mobile: You might have spent days fine-tuning a Flash piece for your post, only to find that most of your audience read that post from a Flash-incompatible iPad or iPhone. If you discover that most of your popular posts are heavily read on phones or tablets, make sure your site is easy to read and navigate on those devices.
  • Social: Assuming that you want your content to generate conversation, and not just views, take a look at who linked to your post from Twitter. You might find some people you want to follow and/or engage in conversation. How many times did Facebook users like, share and comment on your post (use RealShare)? Is your content popular on reddit or StumbleUpon or Digg? If so, join and explore those networks.
  • Geography: If you are trying to attract an audience from a certain geographic region, make sure that your popular posts are popular with that crowd. If not, you reconsider that topic of coverage or the way in which you cover it.
  • Day/time: Was there a particular time and/or day when the post saw a spike in page views? Try to figure out why that happened. Cross that information with the referring page and social network mentions. You might find that one blog or person was particularly influential. Do not try to “pitch” all your future stories to that person, but follow her and learn from what she shares.
  • Weather: If you had a traffic spike on an rainy or intolerably hot day, some of that might simply be the result of people staying indoors to keep dry or cool. Make sure you have some extra posts reserved literally for a rainy day, and roll those out when the demand is high.

This is the second of three posts about page views. The first in the series is Page views mean so little. The last is Page views mean so much.

Image courtesy of James Sullivan on Flickr

Page views mean so little

Courtesy of Mason Mateka

If you’ve lost 10 pounds, you must be healthy, right? Of course not. Your bathroom scale can’t detect disease, infection, injury, etc. Just as weight alone does not reflect your overall health, page views alone don’t  reflect the overall success of your digital content. Don’t misinterpret  page views to mean any of the following.

  • My article reached a large audience. A page that gets 500 page views rarely attracts 500 people. Have you ever been interrupted while reading an article and then revisited it to finish up? Is there a blog post to which you frequently refer? People view pages more than once. I probably account for 40 views to Craig Kanalley’s How To Verify A Tweet blog post.
  • Few people read my article. On the flip side of that first point, your analytics program probably can’t count the people who read your content in an RSS reader or an aggregation application. Worse, the statistics you see probably don’t include mobile apps and might even exclude mobile web page views. Don’t be dismayed by low page views.
  • Blog post X was not read many times. People don’t always click on a blog post to read it. Because of the format of most blogs, visitors can read posts in their entirety from the main page, or from a date, tag or category archive. Those activities don’t count as page views for a particular post. Please don’t try to force people to click just so that you can get that page view.
  • My article or post was profitable. If advertising revenue is your main source of revenue, here are just a few numbers you’ll have to crunch to find out if you made a profit: your expenses, the number of ads served and the price of each ad. The formula is often more complicated than that. Simply put: page views might equal revenue, but they do not necessarily equal profit.
  • People liked what I wrote. Just because people saw something doesn’t mean they enjoyed it.
  • My post must have started some great conversations. If you ever assumed this with non-digital media, you have to stop now. The conversation isn’t only happening on your site. They’re happening on Google+, Twitter, hipsterrific hangouts, old school barbershops, or just among parents dropping their kids off at school.

This is the first of a series of three posts about page views. The second installment is Use page views wisely. The final post is Page views mean so much.

Note: This post was posted on July 5, although its publication date mistakenly read May 24. Thank you to Roxanne Hack for pointing this out.

Image courtesy of Mason Masteka via Flickr