Something else kind of stuck in my brain from Stephen Hume’s column. His claim that the Vancouver Sun had received 10 million page views in February, 2009 seemed unusually high.
Warning: This post gets pretty web-analytics-geeky very quickly, so bail out now if that doesn’t interest.
I checked out the Sun’s online advertising site. According to their downloadable PDF, these were the traffic numbers for May, 2008:
7.2 million monthly page views to vancouversun.com
522,000 unique visitors in May 2008 on vancouversun.com
3.7 million monthly page views to theprovince.com
391,000 unique visitors in May 2008 on theprovince.com
There’s some fine print at the bottom of the page which indicates that the page view numbers come from (the links are mine) “Source: Omniture SiteCatalyst, Avg. May 2008″ and the visitor numbers come from “Source: comScore Media Metrix, Total Canada, Home & Work, May 2008″.
Analytics and Panels
I take an interest in those sources because Omniture SiteCatalyst provides a more accurate visitor total than comScore. SiteCatalyst is an analytics-based tool like Google Analytics, and if it’s counting page views, then it’s counting visitors, too. Like any such ‘web-bug’ system, VancouverSun.com has code on every page that enables them to capture and report on behaviour for each of their site visitors. I grabbed a screenshot of that code from a page on the Sun’s website.
ComScore, on the other hand, is panel-based. They use a sampling of over two million online consumers who have opted-in to share their online attention data with comScore. It’s a reasonable approach, but unquestionably less accurate than on-site analytics.
So why isn’t CanWest reporting the visitor number from their analytics tool? If their page view number is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt it, then the number of visitors from their analytics is surely higher than 522,000.
Why do I think that? First, there’s a correlation between “unique visitors” and “visitors”. Looking at the stats for a number of medium to high traffic sites, the ratio of unique visitors to plain old visitors (meaning those who may have returned multiple times) is about 1 to 1.25. So, working with the comScore number, let’s say the Sun has about 650,000 visitors. I do this extra bit of analysis because I want to consider the common metric “page views per visitor”.
Too Many Page Views or Too Few Visitors?
Assuming 650,000 visitors and 7.2 million page views, that means the average visitor views 11 different pages on the site per visit. Anybody who works in SEO or analytics will tell you that that number is extremely high. I’ve never seen stats for a site where the number of page views per visitor is higher than 5. Have you? Most are between 1.5 and 4. This site, for example, averaged (a very lousy) 1.5 page views per visit last month. The math for TheProvince.com is a little better, at about 7.5 page views per visitor.
So what gives? I don’t know. If that page view number is accurate, then CanWest ought to be promoting a visitor number that’s significantly higher than 522,000. More visitors means more popularity, which in turn makes the newspaper sites more attractive to advertisers. I don’t mean to imply any conspiracy–the likeliest explanation is just an oversight.
As an interesting side note, Kirk LaPointe, the Sun’s deputy editor, points out that “more than half of our traffic at vancouversun.com arrives from search and a large percentage of that is non-local traffic.” This is true for the stats of every established site I’ve ever seen. That fact presents an interesting online advertising challenge. Do they play up the local chunk of their traffic, reach further abroad with the non-local portion, or both for different audiences? I emailed CanWest and the Sun late last week to ask for a comment on this story, but haven’t heard back.
Any thoughts? Or is my math wonky?