Death To The Page View

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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).

Be brave.

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?


  1. What about the payola and advertorial that’s creeping into the equation?
    Bloggers as brand ambassadors with 16 levels of disclosure, and PR friendly tags plastered everywhere while they beg for free stuff to shill on their websites are becoming ubiquitous.
    Where people shared honest stories of their life, they’re now looking to leverage their audience for brand partnerships. And the original, honest content disappears. The shilling begins.
    PR Friendly Blogs Are The New Infomercials.
    The content is the ad. Everything we read is something, someone selling us. Commercials are becoming more and more and more stealth. They’re Tim Hortons Cups on the desk at Canada’s Got Talent. They’re BMWs in Mission Impossible.
    Advertising is trying to hide in content anyway it can.

  2. I’d say if impressions are that important on a scarcity-based model, in an abundance model you are actually visible to everyone… To a point. I see you, but… Do I care enough to follow through? My eyes scanned you but maybe I didn’t even notice you.
    That being said, I think in an age of abundance the most fundamental metric is based on action, however you define it (a click, a lead, a purchase). If amongst the hundreds and thousands of messages I see daily (and given the fact I have little time or am in a rush – usually both) I happen to react to yours, consider that the start of a victory. My two cents.

  3. “Disrupting that experience is no way to gain a new and loyal customer.”
    I’m glad you got to that point because even though Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and the like haven’t utilized page views to generate advertising, their advertising model still focuses on interrupting the experience. I thought Facebook had done a fantastic job with their advertising (which historically were ads to the right of your screen), which isn’t always super relevant but they were standardized (not flashing or taking over your screen) and advertisers had such targeting power that once in a while I saw a relevant ad, clicked, and was happy with what I found on the other side. But their newest foray into Premium Ads applies traditional marketing to new media and interrupts the experience, just like promoted tweets do.
    And don’t get me started on Spotify. I’m a proud Pandora paid subscriber, but Spotify’s ads are so interruptive that they even block access to the interface constantly, making the experience frustrating. Pandora used interruptive ads between songs, but never made it difficult to interact with the program (though to be fair, your options w/Pandora are limited to skipping forward or thumbing up/down).
    I get it – it’s hard to be unique when the opportunity to monetize w/traditional advertising is such low hanging fruit. But holding the audience hostage should be a last resort.

  4. I think that there are several issues here. One of the first ones is that display advertising is so cheap! For the publisher, it’s difficult to generate sufficient return with one ad unit. Hence the perceived need to have lots of ads over lots of pages. This, of course reduces the effectiveness of said ads.
    I’d really like to see content sites and ads vastly reduce the amount of ads and focus on the user experience and the experience for the advertiser. I’m sure that there are opportunities to better integrate the advertiser’s message with less noise, that will get more quality views in a way that also ads value to the viewer.
    We shouldn’t loose site of the fact that the web allows a much greater degree of targeting, so those ads should be of greater interest to the community they serve. The concept of “The Deck” is a good step in a better direction.

  5. McLuhan said it first and maybe best….we tend to fill the new media with the content of thenold media….and is this not precisely what we have done?

  6. No clear solutions indeed, just smart marketing people to help transform and monetize these environments with meaning and creativity (sounds good right?)
    Regardless of the ad tactic, creative msg or the functionality of the placement; the PLACE is everything and CONTENT is king!
    Good post MJ!
    – A Brave Biz Dev Guy in the online ad world

  7. In traditional media, like TV, the problem is not more Coke cups on desks or Cesar Millan riding his Toyota. The problem is that these frequent and obvious in-content plugs never REPLACED the thirty second ad – they only added to them. So along with pop-ups, crawls, product placements, give-aways (the Ellen Show is an infomercial now; ever see Project Runway?), you also have the most 30 and 60 second ads in history. There are few shows left without paid advertising within the content – even Letterman is for sale – and all shows are shorter due to traditional breaks. To me, TV in particular is unwatchable. I am hoping the net does not become the same. As Apps have proven, we ARE willing to pay for something of value – and I will pay more to see no ads. Money for them, content for me. Win-win.

  8. Banners are interruptive. Context helps, but it is still interruptive. This is why I like where Facebook is going with their advertising model. People are on Facebook to see what their friends are doing. Sponsored stories are an extension of that idea. The ads are the content.
    There are also efforts in place to improve metrics in display advertising — it is a known issue.

  9. I never realized that the page-view model was really about getting me exposed to more advertising. What am I thinking?
    Most the time the advertising has nothing to do with me. It’s more interesting to interact with Facebook’s ads and let them know if a certain ad bores me, is repetitive or is offensive. Still, it takes forever to get them to show me an ad that’s even remotely interesting.
    The thing I want to see the death of is the Squeeze Page. Those are the things I consciously avoid. If not avoidable, I load the email address of an account I go into maybe 2x per year and avoid the spam and drip campaign.

  10. I don’t think it’s death to the page view, I think it’s death to ads as we know them generally. Oh, not immediately, don’t get me wrong, people will keep trying, and people will keep advertising – and Google ad words are a long way from dead. But in the end, dead.
    It’s what several other commenters have alluded to – the experience being disrupted – that will kill the traditional ad. I’d hands down rather watch content where Coca Cola has paid for the characters to drink a Coke than to have my content interrupted for 30 seconds to watch a Coke ad. And I think most people would prefer that.
    Facebook hasn’t got it right yet either – or the advertisers largely haven’t. It’s still a disruptive experience rather than seamless integration with content.
    As a marketer, I would rather focus on becoming a trusted brand through interaction with our target audience, through collating interesting content, and through writing interesting content rather than through disrupting people’s experience of content with ads that don’t work anyway. It’s the way of the future.

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