The beginning of the end for pageviews?

Nielsen has announced that it will no longer be tracking pageviews as a measure of a website’s traffic. Instead they are going to focus on time spent on the site as a metric. The reasoning behind this is that newer web technologies such as Ajax mean you can view different content on a site without reloading a page- which skews the results if pageviews are your only indicator.

This is likely to be an interim solution until the technology is developed to create some kind of combined metric. Pageviews are flawed because most analytics software does not count the last page visited. This is because the trigger for counting a page is the action of leaving that page for another URL. If you simply close your browser or leave your computer at a page it isn’t counted. Unfortunately the same action would skew a time measurement- if I go to lunch with this page open won’t Nielsen count the time as the entire time I’m gone?

Another issue is blogs (like this one) usually have multiple articles on one page and readers often don’t go further in. Time measurement will improve this metric for blogs.

Why is this important? If you’re an advertiser you base the value of your media buy on metrics, among other things. Not having some kind of universally agreed-upon metric makes it difficult to verify the value of an ad buy.

‘YouTube Election’ devoid of issues

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s I spent a fair amount of time consulting with political candidates seeking state and local office. A lot of blood, sweat and tears were poured out to develop and articulate policy positions on issues; e.g., the death penalty, reproductive choice, school funding, and health care financing.

I ceased to be involved in political campaigns about 10 years ago, because the process had degenerated into a series of nasty attacks and counter-attacks that often were nothing more than character assassinations. I observed good people leaving politics in droves. Civil debate on important issues was rare.

What’s happening today in the political arena is even more insidious to our democracy. Check out AP National writer Jocelyn Noveck’s article on the 2008 presidential race.

Campaigns for the highest office in the land are focused on the candidates authorized or unauthorized web videos, MySpace and Facebook profiles, candidates’ own online communities, and text-messaging networks. On Sen. Barack Obama’s site, you can download ringtones with snippets of his speeches set to a rock or hip-hop motif.

Instead of using the new media to spread the word about their substantive positions on vital issues, the candidates instead seek to amuse and entertain, and raise millions of dollars in the process. But how many voters are aware of the candidates’ positions on the major issues? Will the election come down to who has best manipulated the new media?

No wonder Al Gore won’t run. Global warming is a phenomenon acknowledged by almost everyone able to fog a mirror, but the candidates are saying almost nothing about it.

It’s a sad state of affairs.

iPhone: Look and Tap is the new Point and Click

I’m as geeked out as anyone about the iPhone. But as a web designer/developer, I’m a bit disconcerted. Why? It’s yet another web browser / interface to deal with (at Martino Flynn, we generally develop for Firefox 2 on Mac and Windows, Safari 2 for the Mac, and Internet Explorer 6 for Windows, the latter being the real problem child in terms of proper CSS rendering). The iPhone version of Safari seems to behave similarly to Safari 3, which is still in beta versions on Mac and Windows, but is in full release on the iPhone. Safari 3 breaks certain javascript techniques on Mac, Windows, and yes, the iPhone. The iPhone also doesn’t support flash at all.

Hands-on with the iPhone, one element of the user interface really caught my attention. Rather than trolling around a page looking for links with the mouse and cursor, you scan and identify links visually — there’s no mouse-over or rollover state that I noticed, and even if there were, I doubt it would be useful in any practical sense due to the small size of the elements on-screen compared to your relatively large fingertip. This doesn’t affect your run-of-the-mill hyperlinks so much as it does more complex elements like drop-down menus, which are effectively inaccessible on the iPhone. Any sites that rely heavily on mouseover-activated elements will likely be far less useful on the iPhone. On the other hand, those annoying rich media ads that expand when you mouse over them (the peddlers of these claim that a mouseover constitutes user initiation, which IMHO requires a more definite click) won’t work either.

Google on Flash: "We're blind, blind!"

From the Google Webmaster Blog:

“As many of you already know, Flash is inherently a visual medium, and Googlebot doesn’t have eyes. Googlebot can typically read Flash files and extract the text and links in them, but the structure and context are missing. Moreover, textual contents are sometimes stored in Flash as graphics, and since Googlebot doesn’t currently have the algorithmic eyes needed to read these graphics, these important keywords can be missed entirely. All of this means that even if your Flash content is in our index, it might be missing some text, content, or links. Worse, while Googlebot can understand some Flash files, not all Internet spiders can.”

I’m always amused when I go to an agency site and it is entirely constructed in Flash, especially if said agency is pitching their Internet marketing expertise. As this official Google blog post notes, these sites are invisible to search engines and will not rank in organic results. The search engine indexing bots only see text and html/xml links between pages. They can’t understand pictures, text embedded in pictures or video.

Also, a Jupiter study done in 2001 found that Flash splash pages, those annoyingly clever animations that you have to go through on many sites, cut traffic by 50%. Now, six years later, we’re still seeing people building these things.

The only exception to building heavily Flash-oriented sites may be for major brands (think Nike or Coke) that don’t need to rank because they’re so recognizable and established. Even here I’d question the reasoning behind going totally Flash. As the Google post notes, best practices for using Flash on a site include:

  • Embedding the Flash elements in an html/xml/CSS site architecture rather than building the whole site as a Flash animation
  • Correctly adding text descriptions to the Flash filenames that are literal descriptions of what the file contains
  • Never auto-playing audio or video when a page opens (this drives me crazy- don’t people realize that many visitors to their site may be in a work environment where a blast of audio is inappropriate?)
  • Always offer a bypass option to skip the animation

Flash is an amazing tool but it has to be used with care- if someone pitches you an all-Flash site ask them about optimization. The answer should be revealing.

Get the Best from your Design Team

A few years ago, Aquent produced an ahead-of-its-time series of short videos titled “Design Thinking Out Loud”. There’s a treasure trove of good stuff here for agency folks and clients alike, and I find myself referring back to these well-produced short interview-style videos again and again.

Of particular interest is one video featuring Lana Rigsby of Rigsby Hull, a Houston-based communications design consultancy. This video is titled “Arresting Approval Pain,” but I find it to be a a good primer on how to get the most out of the client / designer relationship.

Ms. Rigsby offers some really straight talk on how agencies and clients can work well together. A few quotes:

A good project brief is not a blueprint for how the work is to be done. It is a clear, concise declaration of what the project is expected to achieve and how the success of the project will be measured in the end.

To make an approval process smooth and productive, you have to have strong leadership. A strong leader articulates the objectives of the project well upfront, understands the audience, is available and decisive to the project, understands how design satisfies the objectives and is able to communicate that internally.

Poor leadership is exemplified by leaders who attempt to come in and influence the creative product, and this is how sometimes the creative product becomes compromised.

Never confuse collaboration with building consensus.

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