Are the days of measuring page views as an advertising metric slowly (or quickly) coming to an end?
When banner ads first came on the Internet (we now call it "display advertising"), I remember thinking to myself, "is this the best we can do?" While I sold them and many big and powerful companies bought them, I never understood why anybody would take action. For the most part they felt like they were interrupting a reading experience (what, with all that flashing and stuff) and because they had to be so light, there wasn’t much happening within the small square in terms of creativity, innovation and technology. As the ad platform matured, it seemed like the name of the game became all about cramming as many of them as possible on to one web page, or coming up with a variety of different sizes and splattering those all over a page. After the dot com implosion, there was a brief moment when it felt like we may get a chance to reboot, but it never happened. Now, we have online publishers roping consumers in with compelling content and then spreading the one story out over multiple pages to generate as many page views (which equal more ad impressions) as possible. Personally, I try not to read any content online from a publisher that doesn’t have a "read as a single page" feature.
There’s still something inherently wrong with the page view model.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Yesterday, Ad Age published an op-ed piece titled, Breaking Free From the Page-View, Display-Ad Prison. In it, Eric Farkas from appssavvy says: "If you look at some of the most popular sites and apps (Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Pandora, Instagram), none of them generates advertising revenue through page views. Of course, many have yet to figure out how they’re going to monetize their site from advertising. With that being said, I’m fairly confident that none of them will be turning to 300×250 display ads and other standard ad units. These sites are primarily concerned with the user experience and are exploring ways to monetize their sites and apps by providing value to advertisers by intertwining brand messages within people’s activities. Facebook is bringing your social graph into the ad equation and is turning brand content into one of its primary sources of advertising. Twitter is placing promoted messages within your stream of tweets. The trick for each of these companies is providing premium advertising at scale, without disrupting the user experience."
Old thinking to new media?
Page views are a form of traditional media thinking. One page… one (or more) ad(s). What we’ve done is looked at a web page and said, "this is no different than a page in a magazine or a newspaper." In fact, when publishers talk about trading analog dollars for digital pennies, it’s proof and validation that we’re applying traditional thinking to new media… and that’s at the core of the problem. Love or hate Google (I happen to be in the "love" camp), they cracked the DaVinci Code with Google AdWords – everything from how they’re bought to how they are displayed. The advertising became a part of the page and the media guts of the ad was a form of content. Affiliate marketing, leveraging content to build a targeted email database and other forms of marketing seem inherently more strategic and powerful than a simple display ad driving page views as a formal revenue model.
User experience is the other big thing here.
Is experiencing a web page or a mobile app the same as reading a newspaper or a magazine? No. How a user engages with the content in the digital format is so fundamentally different than print that it’s almost laughable that we’re still even thinking about page views as an advertising metric at this point. Few people sit and read a web page or mobile app. They graze, click, move and play with it. Disrupting that experience is no way to gain a new and loyal customer. Brands, agencies and the media companies need to dig down deep to figure out how to create content as media that becomes additive to the experience and not a disruption (no easy feet).
If this thinking isn’t enough to rattle some cages, think about this: is the Internet content we see published – in all of its current and glorious forms – based on a scarcity model? A newspaper and magazine sells advertising on a very limited amount of space (only one advertiser can grab the coveted back cover placement, etc…). Online content is all about abundance. You can add as many pieces of content as you like. You can do images, audio and video to supplement the text (let’s not even get started on linking and more). There are – literally – no boundaries (with the exception of your server bandwidth). Page views are an advertising model driven by the scarcity model, but the Web and mobile is a space of abundance and choice and motion.
No clear solutions to this problem and massive challenge. I just have one more question: what are you thinking?