Nielsen to rank Web sites by visit lengths

By Anick
Jesdanun

Associated
Press

A leading
online measurement service will scrap rankings based on the longtime industry
yardstick of page views and begin tracking how long visitors spend at the
sites.

The move
by Nielsen/NetRatings, expected to be announced Tuesday, comes as online video
and new technologies increasingly make page views less meaningful.

Although
Nielsen already measures average time spent and average number of sessions per
visitor for each site, it will start reporting total time spent and sessions
for all visitors to give advertisers, investors and analysts a broader picture
of what sites are most popular.

Currently, sites and advertisers often use page views, a
figure that reflects the number of Web pages a visitor pulls from a site.

However,
Yahoo Inc. and others are increasingly using a software trick called

Ajax to improve the user
experience. It allows sites to update data automatically and continually,
without users needing to pull up new pages. Page views decline as a result.

Page views
also drop as people spend more time watching online video at sites like Google
Inc.’s YouTube.

“Based
on everything that’s going on with the influx of

Ajax and streaming, we feel total minutes is
the best gauge for site traffic,” said Scott Ross, director of product
marketing at Nielsen. “We’re changing our stance on how the data should
be” used.

Nielsen
will still provide page view figures but won’t formally rank them. Ross said
page view remains a valid gauge of a site’s ad inventory, but time spent is
better for capturing the level of engagement users have with a site.

Ranking
top sites by total minutes instead of page views gives Time Warner Inc.’s AOL a
boost, largely because time spent on its popular instant-messaging software now
gets counted. AOL ranks first in the

United States with 25 billion
minutes based on May data, ahead of Yahoo’s 20 billion. By page views, AOL
would have been sixth.

Google,
meanwhile, drops to fifth in time spent, primarily because its search engine is
focused on giving visitors quick answers and links for going elsewhere. By page
views, Google ranks third.

In both page
views and time spent, Yahoo is ahead of News Corp.’s MySpace and other Fox
Interactive Media sites, according to the Nielsen measures.

Yahoo has
more than twice the time spent as Fox, but has less than a 10 percent edge in
page views. That is because MySpace requires users to pull up a new page
anytime they make a change or view a new profile, while Yahoo increasingly uses

Ajax to
continually pull new data, even if a user stays on the same page all day.

Nielsen’s
rival, comScore Media Metrix, also has addressed the rise of Ajax with the
development of site “visits” — defined as the number of times a
person returns to a site with a break of at least a half-hour.