Why do news organizations persist in using total page views as a measure of success? Perhaps because if you're afraid of numbers then you're even more afraid of bad numbers, or numbers that tell you that your site isn't as successful as you want.
As with unique visitors and time on site, page views is a deeply flawed metric for understanding how a news organization is growing and retaining audiences.
If the number of page views goes up, it could be a good thing. Or, it could be bad.
If page views go down, it could be a bad thing. Or – you guessed it – it could be good.
We would all like to think that a soaring number of page views means lots of people are eagerly pawing through our sites reading everything that's written. However, how many times have you gone to a site and clicked on, say, 12 pages, fruitlessly looking for something?
This is counted as:
1. One unique visitor
2. One visit
3. 12 page views
And one dissatisfied person who may not come back.
The page views metric rewards the bad design and navigation that many news sites have (sorry). Most news sites persist in using section titles that are the same as their legacy media product (e.g., "Local News," "Life"), leaving audiences – if they're so inclined – to have to click numerous times before landing on a story about a particular city or activity like gardening.
Or, a site breaks up a story into multiple pages, which can be annoying to a reader and reduces the possibility the reader will read the entire story and rate it, e-mail it or leave a comment. What could be counted as one page view with a comment is counted as, say, five page views.
If a site is redesigned and readers can find what they want with fewer clicks, total page views will – should – go down.
And, dynamic content, or content that changes on the page without the reader clicking anything – isn't counted at all. Streaming stories, videos, widgets, Flash applications, podcasts? One page view.
To truly grow, a news org must understand every action its audiences are taking on its sites. These are challenging times that require news sites to experiment and try many different things. Not all things will work, which means sometimes the numbers will be bad. But – you guessed it – that's a good thing. We have to know if something's not working so we can fix it.