For online publishers dependent on advertising, few things are as important as pageviews because more pageviews tends to equal more dollars. There's nothing inherently wrong with attempting to boost these numbers; it's to be expected.

But not all pageviews are generated equally. There are a number of swinish techniques online publishers use to inflate the number of views.

Linkbait-and-switch. There's nothing wrong with a little linkbait. Linkbait is an important part of a viral marketing strategy and can produce some great SEO benefits. That doesn't stop some publishers, however, from crafting linkbait-worthy titles for content that isn't linkbait. This is the digital equivalent of the misleading National Enquirer story.

Example: A marketing blog I often read found a way to mention tax evaders in the title of a post dealing with the ongoing backlash against Google in Switzerland. Clever title but unfortunately the post had absolutely nothing to do with tax evaders.

Pagination abuse. Breaking content up across multiple pages isn't necessarily a bad thing -- when it helps create a better user experience. But utilizing pagination as a tool for increasing pageviews is bad, bad, bad.

Example: When a popular tech blog added pagination to post comments, it wasn't a bad thing. But then it changed the way pagination was set up: instead of providing pagination in which users can easily select a specific comments page (by number), users were forced to use 'Newer Posts' and 'Older Posts' links to navigate. You can probably figure out the reason why.

Automatic refreshes. One of the lowliest pageview-generating tactics: automatically refreshing a site's pages after a certain period of time lapses. Automatic refreshes only really benefit the publisher since they typically come into play when a user leaves a page open in a browser window and goes off to do something else. Display advertisers end up paying for phantom impressions because of this and users have to contend with the annoying refresh that always seems to happen shortly after they return to the page.

Example: One of my favorite websites for stock market commentary automatically refreshes its homepage every three minutes. While the publisher would probably argue that this is useful to users because homepage content is updated on a regular basis throughout the day, in my opinion this is more excuse than anything else. If I want to refresh the page, I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself.

Slide shows. List posts are popular for very good reason and you're reading one now. But imagine if to read this post, you had to browse through five slides, each one detailing a single swinish way publishers put pageviews above people. That would generate five pageviews but it wouldn't exactly be an ideal user experience.

Example: Although I said I wouldn't name names, since Forbes.com was called on its use of this tactic in my recent interview with Rex Hammock, there's no harm in holding them up as an example.

Over-linking. Showing yourself a little link love is not necessarily a bad habit. Obviously, if you have great content you should take advantage of the opportunity to direct your users to it -- where appropriate. But a line is crossed when you bombard your users with internal links with an intention of generating more pageviews.

Example: a recent post on a popular social media blog contained 159 words. Not the longest post, right? Yet it was long enough to include six internal links covering 23 of those words. If that isn't shameless over-linking, I don't know what is.

If you're an online publisher employing any of these tactics, you might want to think twice. Pageviews are important, but so are people -- your users and your advertisers. Those who focus more on generating pageviews than maintaining a superior user experience and making sure that advertisers aren't being cheated will eventually shed users and devalue their ad inventory.

Photo credit: ponchosquealº via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 August, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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John Jones

Not to mention including their own staff's page impressions in their figures! Advertisers are often serving up ads to nothing more than all the people who work on the site! 

over 8 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

And it's for all these reasons, and more, that we've ended up charging pay-per-click.

Most potential (smaller) advertisers, migrating out of the printed trade and business press don't have a clue what all the numbers mean anyway, let alone (often) what to do with a click when they get one. A booking, like an order on a clipped press coupon, fair enough, but most struggle to convert enquiries directly through their websites, so even the clicks are proving difficult to prove ROI, and impressions are one step removed from that.

Short term, it might work in favour of publishers to be generating revenues this way but I'm fairly sure that unless real business resulting becomes attributable, the spend will be short lived. And although the potential exists, of course, to abuse the click-through, again if this does not convert into real orders from real people, the plan is anyway doomed in fairly short order.

So, in the end, I think it will be those sites that can attract enough different real people (unique visitors) with a sufficient relevance to the content, including the advertisers, to produce a real market place, that works - provably, that will win out. Anything else will just be shown up as the smoke and mirrors that it often is.

over 8 years ago

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SeoNext

I am totally agree with Neil Warren. I think to produce a real market place those sites that have relevant content can attract the advertiser.Really a very nice & informative post.Thanks for sharing this information with us.

over 8 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Not sure I agree that automatic refreshes are always wrong  -I know a finance portal where the market prices on the home page are updated in real time - pushed to the browser.

It's an interesting challenge to web load test that kind of technology, which is what we were doing.  And as for a page count... only part of the page updates not all: but in some camps it could be counted as a page refresh per second!

But for the site user those updated prices are just what they want.

If the visitor is leaving the page open on the browser: then doesn't that mean they do have an interest in the site, even if they do walk away for a while?

Deri

over 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Deri,

Why can't the finance portal you are referring to use AJAX to update only the prices? Other sites stream real-time quotes in this fashion. It sounds like this is what you're doing too?

There's no reason to refresh an entire page these days; it's not required to solve the challenge of displaying constantly-updating information. That is, of course, if the interest is a decent user experience, not inflated pageviews.

over 8 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Patricio, my fault, I wasn't clear - that site does use Ajax (or actually a more bespoke equivalent)   - so they are not actually refreshing the whole page.

But... I wondered if they counted those updates as 'page updates'.  It may be cheating,  but a way to up the page count?

over 8 years ago

Ian Tester

Ian Tester, Senior Product Manager at brightsolid online publishing

It become even more barking when internal teams are set targets based on Page Impressions / user. I've seen site teams employ all the tactics above and worse to hit target and bank the bonus because some doofus applied a spurious engagement metric to the site, and they trashed the user experience, CSAT and return rates in the process. Ditto intersitials - is there anything more annoying and more likely to make you think "I will NEVER come to this site again"? Focus on the user experience first and decent ad integration - you won't be getting any decent quality return buys on a CPM basis if your inventory is large but non-responsive because of shabby tricks like these.

over 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Deri,

To my knowledge, the use of AJAX will not boost pageviews as far as the standard analytics and tracking services go. In fact, it should reduce them, which is why metrics like time-on-site have become so much more important as AJAX and other RIA technologies become more and more popular.

I recall that comScore and Nielsen have been forced to address this issue because properties that make extensive use of AJAX had pageview numbers that made them look less substantial than they actually were usage-wise.

Ian,

Amen. Pageviews can be one of a number of useful metrics to look at when you've designed with the user in mind; for goal setting it is an absolutely horrible metric.

over 8 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Patricio,  have you a link to what Nielson /comScore say they now do regards AJAX clicks? 

I'm wondering if they recommend properties should bolt-on tracking-tags to some AJAX clicks? 

Being cynical, I'm wondering: once people can make some AJAX clicks look like a page-view, it's a small step to make all do it: just to boost Page Views.

Deri

over 8 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Thanks - interesting those links are back in 2007

comScore report contains not a single metric involving 'pages' - it's all visitors and visits..

Neilson focus on visits, but do still report on pages - eg Time per Page View.

So as Ian said: its mad when  Page Impressions are made the prime focus.

And high time for ad buyers to stop asking for Page Impressions but for Visits.

Of course, publishers may start to manipulate Visits too...to up their performance/bonuses.

comScore define a seperate visit as being at least 30 minutes distance from the previous visit. 

And the only way to measure that... is by gap between page views.

So a new way to game their reports to get to the top of the 'visits per unique visitor' table  - would be to use AJAX to the maximum - so that if visitors are often on your property for more than 30 minutes, you can split that into 2 visits not 1.

over 8 years ago

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PHP Programming

Thanks for the post.Well i did not know all these details.We have to keep the advertisers and users in mind.Look forward to more such informative posts from you.Thanks.

over 8 years ago

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Ken Hawkins

Perhaps worth mentioning that deceptive publisher tactics are nothing new -- like "free" copies newspapers and magazines have been delivering for years, if they're ever even actually delivered.

almost 8 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

I suspect it is more a case of the blind leading the blind though Ken, because I’m really not aware of very many marketers or advertisers who still have a clue what it is they actually want, or might be able to achieve.

I was quite curious about the $multi-million “strategic alliance” I noticed taking shape between “publisher” Google and “advertiser” Omnicom to “plan” however many display/banner ads that was going to be, for example.

Because I’ll bet that the eventual recipients of most of that traffic still won’t have a clue what to do with it, or what it was “worth”.

We’ve even moved on from my comment above (nearly a year ago!), and now pretty well aim to make a formal introduction between buyer and seller – (and hang about a bit to make sure they start talking!).

almost 8 years ago

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