Google has tossed a new feature into the latest dev builds of Google Chrome. I'm guessing part of Google's “search before search” campaign, Chrome “Instant” loads pages as you type them. Currently only available to the people brave enough to test the advanced options, if it goes widespread, this feature is going to balloon pageviews and possibly result in problems for CPM advertisement internet wide.
This weekend, while playing around with my Chrome dev build, I stumbled onto the about:flags page in an attempt to enable GPU accelerated Compositing. One of the new settings in here is just labled “instant”, described as “makes the address bar load urls as you type”. From the poor grammar I assumed this would just do more granular URL prediction, but I was wrong…
Instant enables the loading of webpages as you type their URL's. It's a little intimidating to watch, as you type an address and it loads various steps in between (including, some times, loading one site, before switching over to the page you mean to visit as you complete the URL). For instance, while typing vkistudios.com/webinars-international-seo it would first load vkistudios, then the webinars page (/webinars) then the international SEO webinar page (/webinars-international-seo).
It all happens pretty fast (drawing from the cache) so it's not much of a user experience problem (in fact, it's pretty cool) but being the analyticsy/advertisingy person I am, the first thing that came to mind was “my god, what is this going to do to page views and ad impressions?”
So, I decided to test it out.
How do we test Pageviews?
In this case, I know (thanks largely to BrianK and Andre) that one pageview is actually one loading of the __utm.gif file. So tracking pageviews should be as simple as recording how many times that file is loaded. Simple, no?
Well, of course Chrome dev tools don't recognize the instant page views, founding only the initial ones, so instead we had to go elsewhere.
To test this I used a pretty simple, yet incredibly useful, tool called Fiddler. Fiddler is fairly simple in its operation: it just logs all http traffic between your computer and the internet.
So in this case, we enabled Chrome Instant, turn on Fiddler, and then just watch for __utm.gif calls. Sure enough, a bunch pop up.
Our test was to type in the URL our webinar page (http://www.vkistudios.com/webinars). We recorded the log for this.
Now, if you're insane enough to read all of that you'll notice two things:
- typing our URL in loaded 3 pages: the front page, an error 404 page, and the webinar page
- there are a LOT of utm.gif requests. In fact, there are more than there would normally be because of a bunch of Google Analytics tests, tweaks, hacks, and all sorts of other things that we're testing on a day to day basis.
Because of the number of UTM.gif requests are so high, I consulted with the analytics guys who told me that we have 4 requests per standard page: We have one call going to GA, another to Urchin, another to page load time tracking, and a fourth which I'm not sure about.
Now if you look at the log you can see that there are 8 calls just for our front page (utmdt=Web%20Analytics%20Consulting%2C%20Conversion%20Rate%20
Optimization%20and%20Internet%20Marketing%20Vancouver%20BC). While typing the URL we hesitated, and so that has resulted in an extra set of utm.gif requests, and thus an extra page view.
Next are 19 calls to an error 404 page, likely due to the system reloading after a few key strokes (and perhaps a couple of backspaces in typing). This would have resulted in ~4 page views if you had tracking code on your 404's. None if you did not.
Note also, this will mean MANY more “error 404″ calls.
Finally the last page resulted in a single call and thus a single page view.
That means that just to visit one page there were approximately 6 page views. This is insane.
Now imagine if we had CPM advertising, such as banners, on multiple pages. This would completely mess with advertising metrics.
While the technology works like a charm, from a business perspective this is obviously a feature that's not ready for prime time. Without a means of adjusting the measurement of pageviews, this will inflate analytics traffic, and possibly had drastic effects on advertising.
That all said, I still haven't turned it off…