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Death To Page Views! Long Live “Acts Of Engagement”

Chartbeat continues its quest for a more meaningful measure of Internet activity.

Death To Page Views! Long Live “Acts Of Engagement”
[Black laptop keyboard: Pressmaster via Shutterstock]

For a metric that determines where billions of dollars flow, the page view sure is dumb.

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Together with traditional measurements like clicks, unique visits, and time-on-site, the page view has defined how well-trafficked (and in so many cases, lucrative) websites are. Yet they tell us very little about what visitors actually do. One analytics company is trying to change that.

Chartbeat, the real-time web traffic monitoring platform that’s keeping track of you as you read this article (and many others across the web), has been at the forefront of proposing new ideas for how to measure audiences. Specifically, the company thinks that metrics like engagement time and the visibility of ads are far more useful to publishers and advertisers in determining the value of a visitor and the pages they visit.

Chartbeat recently had the Media Rating Council accredit 21 new engagement-focused metrics, including ones called Viewability (for ads) and Active Engaged Time (for pages in general). And since asking the entire web to rethink the way traffic gets measured is a tall order, Chartbeat just pulled back the curtain on exactly how these new metrics are calculated.

To figure out how engaged site visitors are, Chartbeat’s JavaScript snippet listens for what they call “acts of engagement.” This includes things like the loading of the page, scrolling, resizing the window, mousing down, pressing the down arrow key and the like. Essentially, anything that signifies that you are in fact an actual human being with eyeballs paying any attention whatsoever to the page.

In its Description of Methodology document, Chartbeat describes it in more detail:

These checks indicate when a user is actively engaged on the page and, based on a study conducted by Chartbeat, will likely remain so for five additional seconds. This is a rolling window so engaged seconds are not summed (an additional five seconds for every action) but rather every additional act means the user is considered “engaged” for the next five seconds pending another event (which will extend the clock).

The script listens for seven different actions, dividing them up between “initial” engagement (such as loading a page) and “ongoing” engagement (like scrolling down).

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The Description of Methodology, which is well worth a read, breaks down each metric and describes how it’s measured.

Like most things in Internet life, these measurements have potential technical limitations. Anyone with JavaScript or cookies turned off can’t be accurately tracked (although this is true for nearly all metrics). There are also fundamental differences in how mobile browsers render pages, which requires Chartbeat’s script to ignore certain signals.

The goal is to give publishers and site owners a more precise idea of what visitors are actually doing while on a specific page. And more crucially for the business of web publishing, it says more about whether or not a person saw an ad and for how long, rather than simply registering an “impression” and assuming that means anything at all.

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About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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