My Auto-Refresh Experiment

For a few hours today, I ran a little experiment on The Deets to see what I could learn about auto-refresh. J.D. goaded me with the idea on Twitter and I couldn’t resist.

After J.D.’s tweet, I set up an auto-refresh on the post I wrote about how stupid auto-refreshes are. In my attempt to act like a mainstream publication that serves ads to people who don’t see them, I took things even further than the StarTribune, Washington Times, or even Drudge by implementing a 1 minute refresh rate. Yes, every 60 seconds, that blog post (and also the site’s homepage where that post was displayed) automatically reloaded.

What did I find out? Dang, that can really pump up the page views. My average page views per visitor and time on site stats more than doubled over that time period. Sure, people couldn’t finish reading the post or leave a thoughtful comment without the page refreshing, but at a high level my stats sure looked good.

Did it increase my revenue? No. I don’t have impression based advertising on the site (well, maybe 1% is CPM) so I didn’t benefit financially from this experiment.

The larger downside was receiving comments, emails, text messages, and IMs from smart people I respect who were complaining about how crappy their experience on my website had suddenly become. Sure, I went overboard with the refresh rate, but it was enough to remind me of something I consider valuable:

Don’t create crappy experiences for people you respect when they’re trying to consume your content.

Do enough of that and you’ll lose them. This may help explain why the comments suck so bad on mainstream media sites. People that I know and respect don’t spend their time wading into cesspools.

This seems like something advertisers should be taking into consideration when buying online advertising. Where are the people you respect – and would like to know and do business with – spending their time online?

5 thoughts on “My Auto-Refresh Experiment”

  1. Just think if you cranked it up to 30 seconds!

    I looked at the strib’s homepage, they have a 10 minute refresh (1000*60*10) (if the math is wrong, its because it is late and I’m drunk and suck at math :-))

    Ten minutes for a news site isn’t all that bad. That’s probably standard. The argument may come from the newsroom – 10 minutes is a magical threshold for breaking news – and they don’t want to be displaying old content.

    Or, the marketing folks may have something to do with it, and they’re probably not interested in arguing about it.

    A third possibility might be “because it’s always been that way, and we’re too scared to change it”.

    The industry is getting wise to dubious “hit count” magic anyway. 🙂

    D

  2. Daniel, I thought about the freshness of news issue. As I see it, if the concern was presenting fresh news, they could do this without refreshing the entire page. Like gmail has done for years.

  3. To the defense of news aggregators like Drudge and HuffPost, they actually do update their homepage constantly throughout the day, if only to update the stats on how many comments each story is receiving.

    To a much lesser degree, the homepages of major newspapers will update their stories, so I might buy an argument for a refresh on that page.

    But where HuffPost does not auto-refresh individual posting webpages, I know the Strib does…and I wonder if that refresh rate maybe is even faster (anecdotally, it always felt faster).

    Another annoying approach used to puff up pageviews is the breaking up the article into 5 pages approach. Thankfully some site now have an option to click to view the whole story on a single page…my prayer answered there by some sites.

  4. On the subject of breaking up articles. CNN / MSNBS / Time and others often have slideshows. I HATE slideshows.

    If I want to read “Top 20 Beaches” or “America’s Most Radon Contaminated Schools” they’re perfectly capable of putting all the pictures and captions on ONE page.

    Instead they create individual pages, each which must be time consumingly loaded. I usually just forget it and not even read any of them

    james…

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