The page view is a zombie. For years, everyone has been saying it is no longer a meaningful way to measure online popularity. But the publishers who make websites and the advertisers who pay for them swore throughout the year that they’re no longer fooled. The era where a mere click is the crown jewel of metrics is dead. But someone still needs to shoot this zombie in the head.
“We’ve talked about page views dying for ten years,” says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a digital publishing trade group that represents publishers on the web, including WIRED parent company Condé Nast. “They’re not dead, but they should be.”
Along with its corrupting effects, the page view itself has been corrupted.
The page view, much like the click-through, was once the key way websites understood their audiences. It was the way news organizations figured out who was reading their stories—how many, how often, which, from where—and the way advertisers were able to calculate the value of serving up ads on those sites.
But the page view notoriously spawned that most reviled of Internet aggravations: clickbait. Quality became less important than provocation; the curiosity gap supplanted craft. The page view also drove the primacy of “search engine optimization,” or the technique of selecting keywords in headlines, metadata, and text to push articles higher in Google’s page-ranking algorithms. All of this served an online publishing economy propped up by display ads, which helped cement the assumption that news on the Internet should be free.