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Game changers: links and economics

In the space of a decade, the thinking around how to attain (and measure) success online has changed.

We used to count ‘hits’. But a hit was defined as a file download – a file request on you server (not a visit) – and so image-heavy web pages – containing 10 or 20 or more image files – racked up the stats. The measure was meaningless.

It’s all about unique visitors now.

We used to talk about time on site. It’s still an interesting measure, but not always in the way we might imagine. Time on some pages is good. Time on other pages might be bad.

If your page is the ‘verify your purchase’ page within your shopping cart, a user glancing over everything and moving on is ideal. 5 seconds. Maybe 10. If that page is taking up 30 seconds or 1 minute of your customers’ time, it might be an alarm bell masquerading as a compelling page.

But here’s proof positive that the game has really changed. I recently stumbled across an article called The Economics of Surfing (PDF 45kb), written by Adar and Huberman in 2000 for (I love this journal title) the Quarterly Journal of Electronic Commerce (Vol 1, No 3).

The basic argument in the article is that if your site has multiple pathways to the same end point (which it should), then users are putting different values on getting to that point. If I click once, that’s ok. But if I click 3 times, I’ve paid a higher price (where cost=time) for the information or content or sale or whatever.

So the thing the user wants varies in value, and actually becomes more valuable (to the user) the longer the user traverses your site to reach it.

Check this:

“One can construct a web site that changes its link structure to lengthen the path traversed by a given user, thereby making him visit many more pages. For example, if there is a short route (in the number of clicks) to a given page, one may wish to turn that off if the user is likely to visit more pages in between.”

The Economics of Surfing, p 5

Make a user visit ‘many more pages’ and they’ll value your site more highly. Ha!

At the heart of web use is the demand for speed. Don’t waste our time is the online mantra (unless I want my time wasted, of course…).

I recently posted about possible moves by Google to change their algorithm to reward faster web pages. People want stuff…fast! And while a web page’s load time is not the same as a site-wide search for information, Adar and Huberman’s thesis remains astonishing for its lack of insight into what web users demand: Speed and precision.

Or am I being too harsh. Is this criticism just 20-20 hindsight? Were we different? Did we want to click and surf and play and browse more in 2000 than we do now, a decade later? If so, why?

Has the game really changed, or is it us?


Date: Friday, 26. February 2010 8:08
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Subject area: Being bad, Trends, User focus
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