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AOL gains, Google loses in Nielsen metrics change

Nielsen metrics changes benefit AOL over Google by looking at the amount of time users spend on a Web site instead of just unique visitors.

A new ranking methodology at Nielsen/NetRatings gives AOL a boost while disadvantaging Google.

Nielsen/NetRatings this week made a change to its metrics for ranking the most popular Web sites. It will now focus on the amount of time people spend on a site instead of just the unique audience. This move benefits sites with services like instant messaging and e-mail over sites that offer quicker activities such as search.

Using the new total-minutes calculation, AOL is ranked as the most popular Web site in May in the U.S., followed by Yahoo; MSN/Windows Live; Fox Interactive, which owns; Google; eBay; Microsoft; Electronic Arts; Apple and YouTube, which is owned by Google.

Under the unique-audience calculation, the top 10 list looks like this: Google Yahoo, MSN/Windows Live, Microsoft, AOL, Fox, eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia and Apple.

Fox's MySpace, Google's YouTube and eBay have loyal and engaged users, while Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Apple's iTunes helped those rankings, Nielsen/NetRatings said. Electronic Arts broke into the top 10 based on total minutes because of the popularity of its gaming site.

Web sites are increasingly offering services that keep a user on a site for longer, and measurement firms are looking at user "engagement" metrics more and more. The widespread adoption of streaming audio and video, which provides dynamically changing content within a single page or media player, and applications like Ajax, have diminished the importance of measuring page views.

On Thursday, I'll take a broader look at what industry insiders think about this change and what impact it may have on advertising.