The death of pageview journalism

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby

New York City

When newspapers were still king, CEO’s loved to tout how many “subscribers” their print circulation carried. 1.5 million daily and 3 million on the weekend was something to really be proud of. Bigger numbers mean higher rates for advertisers. ‘Look at all the eyeballs that will see your ads’ they exclaimed, when secretly, they knew not everyone was reading every single page of the paper. How could they?

When website tracking and analytics came along, it blew everything publishers knew out of the water. ‘What do you mean this story on ‘A-1’ only got 500 pageviews?? THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!’ they cried. Little did they know how many people actually read their stories.

If newspapers' A-1 were composed of front page stories driven by daily analytics, we would see a very different section front. If CEO's salaries were tied to the well-being of online news sites, we would see a very different type of care and compassion for how well online sites perform.

So what’s wrong with page-view journalism? If you’re approaching it from a very straightforward numbers only point of view, there’s nothing wrong. You can tell your advertisers that you get 1.5mil pageviews per day. But just like the old days, you’ll be leaving out some very key selling points for those advertisers.

Consider if you will a site that gets a reasonable amount of traffic, around 500,000 pageviews per day. This site has a bounce rate of 65%, users stay on average for less than one minute and the regular depth of visits are only 1-2 pages. Wouldn’t it be better to have a site with 300,000 pageviews, a bounce rate of 9% where users stay an average of 10 minutes and their depth of visit is between 10 and 15 pages?

Heck, if I were a journalist, I would have an adwords account that used time segmentation and a bunch of crazy keywords to drive tons of traffic to my stories just to make me look good. On the flip side, if the bounce rate to your stories is 100% is that really a good thing?

Old ways of measuring traffic

Previously, you would be inclined to measure your traffic with the following stats:

  • Pageviews

  • Unique Visitors

  • Bounce Rate

  • Exit Rate

  • Content by title

  • Popular time of day

These metrics give you some very basic ideas of what’s going on around your site. They answer the Who, What, When and Where. What’s missing from this equation? The Why

Outcomes and Conversion Rates

One of the goals of your news website should always be improved outcomes and conversion rates. Your tracking funnels and goals aren’t you? If you don’t have goals, you need to think long and hard about what you want your site to do. This isn’t the same thing as your mission statement. These goals directly affect your bottom line. It doesn’t matter if your site is an E-commerece site or not, your bottom line will always be money.

One of the most simple goals you can have is to get new visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. If they’re tech savvy, you’ll one them to subscribe to your RSS feed. Having someone choose to receive your content is sort of the holy grail for news sites. RSS subscribers are usually some of your most dedicated readers and subscribers. They’ll most likely be willing to support your site through purchases or donations.

Another way to look at traffic is by segmenting your traffic. Your three main categories of traffic will be Direct Traffic, Search Traffic and Referral Traffic. You should also segment your traffic into social media, email and RSS campaigns. Not tagging and following campaigns will result in inaccurate results for Direct Traffic. This could give you a completely different view of what’s going on with your site.

Segmenting your traffic can also help you establish your Conversion Rates for goals. It will let you know where your most valuable traffic is coming from. It will also let you measure how you can increase conversions for other types of traffic. You might find that direct traffic is most likely to donate money to your site or buy one of your products while search engine traffic and referrals are simply passerby’s. Referral traffic is also a good source to help you accomplish your first goal of signing up for email updates or subscribing to your RSS feed.

New ways of measuring traffic

Consider if you will these new metrics for traffic:

  • Visitor loyalty

  • Depth of visit

  • Recency

  • Length of visit

These metrics, while seemingly irrelevant, will actually build a very important picture for your site: Engagement. Why is facebook so popular? Because if people could, they would spend all day on it. It’s an extension of their physical social lives. I’m not suggesting you build a news site that everyone would want to spend all day on, that would be silly. I’m suggesting that you look at an aggregate total of engagement on your site. If designed and maintained properly, people will start to frequent your site more often. Things like related posts, social media tools, comments, and a strong user community give readers incentive to return.

If your site is slow, hard to navigate, or doesn’t have a good internal site search, you’re S.O.L. and it needs to be fixed A.S.A.P.


Using goals, outcomes and conversion rates, you’ll be able to increase your visitor loyalty, depth of visit and recency. When you couple those numbers with pageviews and present your advertisers how engaged your most valuable customers are, you’ll be presenting them with a true snapshot of what’s going on with your site.