According to a Nielsen study, the average U.S. Internet user spends more time on Facebook (FB) than Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, YouTube and Wikipedia combined.

Other credible studies show variances from an average of 9-55 minutes per day (the latter figure being FB’s own site for global users). And the companies which do the tracking do not use the same methods, essentially leaving us comparing oranges to tangerines; similar, but enough of a difference that advertisers need to be conscious of.

Despite the recent advances in tracking and accountability, that is, tracing a user’s footsteps on a website, there is still little clarity on what the real numbers may be. It’s not to say that Facebook is trying to deliberately obfuscate their numbers, but instead they may be using them for bragging and PR rights to attract advertisers.

Are People Actually Using The Website The Whole Time?
Consider the factor of a person’s attentiveness when using the web. When using any search engine or shopping site like Amazon, a user is there to actively find what they are looking for, not spend time idling on a page of results or merchandise.  We make selections quickly, review, and make a decision or we go elsewhere.

According to Sherrill Mane, Senior Vice President of industry services at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, “the state of interactive measurement needs work…(and) there’s still a lot of confusion in the marketplace.”

An example with Facebook may be such as those users who login to Facebook and leave it running in the background.  Recent web browsers like Internet Explorer 7 and 8, and Mozilla’s Firefox (which combined have a majority of users) now have “tabs” allowing people to have multiple websites open.  In fact, at this moment, I’ve been logged into my Facebook page on a web browser tab for the past three hours, however I have only been active on the site for less than 5 minutes today.

See the image below which shows four tabs running: Gmail, WordPress (to write this blog post), a Wall Street Journal page, and Facebook.

firefox browser tabs


Not to beat up Facebook over their accomplishment, but it is a question that needs to be asked. With the ability to target age, location, interests, and have a photo (great for drawing attention to the ad) Facebook can offer a better ROI over other internet advertising strategies.

Factors That Overestimate the Measurements
There are several reasons for a trend of actual web visitors to be overestimated, including:

  • Cookies – Most major publishers use a “cookie” which is the placed on the viewers computer to help track their visit.  Some cookies are set to delete within 30 days, resulting in a person being counted as a potential “new user” each month resulting in inaccurate data for month over month “new visitors.”
  • Multiple Computers – With computers at home, the office, and in smart phones like an iPhone, Blackberry or Google’s Android, users may visit the website from three locations in a single day and be counted each time as a new visitor.
  • Robots & Spiders – Commonly referred to as “bots”, these are the automated visitors sent out by search engines to crawl and help analyze new content on a website.  For many large sites these bots may visit several times per day, serving Google’s insatiable need to rank the most timely relevant content.

What it comes down to is that counting computers is not the same as counting the number of people that visit a website.  User engagement to a site has not yet emerged into the mainstream as a metric to consider.  Again, people making a search have an objective in mind, and those checking out photos on Facebook are simply there to look at photos.  While dismissing the numbers is not a solution, using them to find patterns and an understanding of general trends can greatly help improve the user experience and create better digital advertising strategies.

Have a point to make which may add clarity to all of this?  Please make a comment below.

Cheers,

Landon

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