At Last, Vindication on Visits Vs. Unique Visitors!
It is rare in this world that we get to experience public vindication of our ideas. So it was with excitement that I read on the SeekingAlpha blog about Yahoo president Susan Decker’s comments during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call. I must have missed this when it first came out with all the post-Christmas excitement, but I revisited the earnings release just this past week in light of all the Microsoft/Yahoo chatter and what a gem I found!
Decker said that, moving forward, Yahoo would use visits rather than unique visitors as the most relevant metric for tracking the relative success of Yahoo sites.
“With consumers accessing the web in so many ways, we’ve looked for a more unifying global metric that’s more flexible across Yahoo’s and our partners’ properties and useful across multiple devices and geographies. We expect to use visits to Yahoo’s global starting points and anchor sites to be the most relevant metric going forward.”
She points out that the metrics that have been discussed in the past, such as uniques and page views, “may not tell the story of what’s happening and the key, value-creating starting points for consumers and advertisers.”
Ha! Let me bask in the light of a swift moment of “I told you so.”
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a blog post in which I said that, as a metric, visits were far more useful than unique visitors when tracking web performance. And, though I received plenty of kudos from others within the industry, it must be said that I got my share of “what could this wacky guy be thinking?” type of responses. The guys at Future Now, for example, were particularly scathing in their grokdotcom blog.
My theory was based on a few simple (or, as grokdotcom called them, “simplistic”) reasons:
1. Visits are more accurate than unique visitors.
2. Every visit represents an opportunity to persuade or convert a visitor to a customer.
3. Measuring visits is based on fairly established industry standards.
I explained each of those reasons in detail. I also continued to explore the reasoning behind my theory in other posts, including one where I laid out 15 reasons why all unique visitors are not created equal.
As I pointed out then, users access the Internet via a variety of browsers and a variety of computers. Also, multiple users can access the internet via a variety of browsers on a single computer. Users delete or accept cookies on various browsers and various computers. At any given point in time, then, these scenarios are being played out by your visitors to your website. They are inherent in unique visitor counts and, by their very definition, make unique visitor counts completely unreliable.
Today, the issue gets even more complicated. Users access the Internet not only by a variety of different computers (their home computer, their computer at work, their husband’s or wife’s computer) but by a variety of different devices including Blackberries and iPhones.
Times are changing, and the world of web analytics must change, too. If you didn’t take my word for it, back in 2006, that visits was a more accurate measure than unique visitors, think about what Susan Decker of Yahoo said. And Susan wasn’t alone either – several other large media concerns have explicitly or implicitly gone this same direction. Then, go back and read or re-read my 15 reasons unique visitors are not created equal.
Consider that this might be just the first indication of a sea-change that is taking place in the world of web analytics. New devices, new technologies and new ways of using the web continue to create the need for constant vigilance on the part of web analytics companies. We can’t afford to sit back and rely on what has worked in the past.
That’s part of the reason I was so pumped when I read about Yahoo’s shift. It means we at Omniture are moving in the right direction. We’re successfully staying on top of the changes the web world is encountering.
I’ll continue to explore these changes, and to share my thoughts with you. Hopefully, they’ll help you to more easily navigate the choppy but exciting waters of a Web 2.0 world. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts, even if you disagree. As always, I look forward to reading your comments.