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Strategic Advantage to Engaging Young Adults

comScore Networks today released a study analyzing the impact of visitation from university locations at the top two Web properties, Fox Interactive Media (which includes MySpace.com) and Yahoo! Sites.

Eight percent of all Web content consumed by U.S. Internet users, as measured in page views, comes from university settings. At Fox Interactive Media -- the top Internet property in November on the basis of page views -- 12 percent of content is viewed at university locations, while only 6 percent of page views at Yahoo! Sites occur at university locations.

If college usage is omitted, a comparison of page views at Fox Interactive Media and Yahoo! sites tells a very different story: Yahoo! sites combined, with 35.6 billion page views for November, would rank slightly higher than Fox Interactive Media with 34.9 billion.

So, why all the fuss about this these metrics, and what's the big deal? "Recent media coverage of the total page views for Fox Interactive Media and Yahoo! Sites underscores the critical role that university measurement plays in the accurate reporting of Web site visitation," said Dr. Magid Abraham, President and CEO of comScore Networks.

"While some research companies showed a lower page view count for Fox and Yahoo! than did comScore, our data agree that Yahoo! is still the leader if one looks at only the usage from home and work locations. However, the key reason for the apparent discrepancy is Internet usage from university locations, which comScore uniquely measures. In the case of sites such as MySpace.com, which generates a substantial share of their visitation among college students, the failure to account for college users significantly underestimates the true number of total page views."

The recent decline reported by comScore in Yahoo! Sites page views underscores another emerging issue in the Web metrics measurement industry. New technologies such as AJAX -- which enable real-time site updates without needing to refresh a page -- are impacting the relevance of page views as an accurate measure of the intensity of consumer's Internet usage. Yahoo! in particular has begun implementing AJAX and other Web 2.0 technologies across their sites.

"The Internet experience today is much more dynamic thanks to Web 2.0 technologies like AJAX," continued Dr. Abraham. "While page views will not altogether cease to be a relevant measure of a site's value, it's clear that there is an increasing need to consider page views alongside newer, more relevant measures."

Metrics aside, if it is in fact true that young adults are trending away from visiting Yahoo's collective sites, then I believe that it would be very insightful to learn more about the reasons for the trend. Perhaps it's an overly simplistic analysis that points to what Yahoo isn't doing that other sites like MySpace are doing. As an example, Yahoo had online community sites long before Myspace came into the picture.

Apparently, merely having community-oriented sites in your portfolio of online offerings isn't a strategic advantage unless you can sustain the engagement of participants -- again, IMHO the legacy term 'audience' and 'visitor' don't belong within this context. So, can comScore -- and others counting page-views -- migrate to measuring a more meaningful metric, such as the degree of site participant interactivity?

Eventually, as they move further into the workforce, the growing income of young adults makes them an even more attractive target market segment. Clearly, it's an advantage for marketers to positively 'connect' with them early and often -- as long as it's relevant to their lifestyle and interests. Ultimately, that objective is at the root of this ongoing analyst debate -- not page-views.

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