Nielsen//NetRatings: Total Minutes, Sessions Better Measure than Traffic Volume

NEW YORK – Nielsen//NetRatings has added both total minutes and total sessions metrics to NetView, its syndicated Internet audience-measurement service.

While NetView has consistently reported standard time per person as well as average number of sessions, the new metrics deliver a greater perspective on total engagement across sites, which is a better way to judge website performance in the era of Web 2.0, the company said.

Rich Internet Application (RIA) technologies such as AJAX and streaming have greatly improved the consumer experience. However, these technologies generate new challenges for Internet audience measurement. For example, AJAX refreshes content without reloading entire Web pages, and streaming provides dynamically changing content within a single page or a media player. While a page-views metric under-credits such engagement, the total minutes metric provides a common denominator for user behavior that is independent of site design, according to a Nielsen//NetRatings spokesperson.

“Total Minutes is the best engagement metric in this initial stage of Web 2.0 development, not only because it ensures fair measurement of websites using RIA and streaming media, but also of Web environments that have never been well-served by the page view, such as online gaming and Internet applications,” said Scott Ross, director of product marketing for the NetView service.

HardcoreHotel owner and operator Rebecca “Becky” Renae told AVN Online, “Both matrices are necessary and useful, but it depends upon which type of site they are applied to and what the site owner is trying to achieve. For example, my site is built for retention, yet I would hope that the time spent on my site is just long enough for them to find what they are looking for and convert on another site. Long session lengths may tell me that they are participating in a forum board or just wandering around the site being a voyeur."

Nielsen//NetRatings data show the difference between time spent and page-view metrics varies by website category. Among search providers, the time spent and page-view ratios are similar. For example, the ratio of total minutes spent on Google versus Yahoo! is 3.3 to 1. The page-view ratio is 3.1 to 1.

Between social networking sites MySpace and YouTube, the time spent ratio is 3.6 to 1, but the ratio of page views is much larger: 10.4 to 1. YouTube visitors spend more time per page than MySpace visitors do because primarily they are watching videos, which requires fewer page refreshes. While MySpace may be able to serve more ads because of its number of page refreshes, the time-spent ratio is an important comparison of audience engagement on the two sites.

The top 10 most engaging Web brands ranked by total minutes in May were AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN/Windows Live. The majority of time spent at these properties was driven by their instant messaging applications and e-mail sites, which accounted for 63, 54, and 47 percent of their total minutes, respectively. Fox Interactive Media, Google, eBay, and YouTube performed strongly based on their loyal and engaged site audiences, while Microsoft and Apple benefited from popular multimedia applications, specifically Windows Media Player and iTunes. Electronic Arts Online was the only Web brand to break into the top 10 when ranked by total minutes rather than unique audience, primarily driven by the very high time per person found on its Pogo gaming site.

“The information is all useful, but it has to be used in context with a particular site on a case-by-case basis,” Renae said. “Both systems have their purpose and function depending upon the site they are applied to, so the statistics have to be taken in that context.”