Are Pageviews a Valid Billing Metric?

Catch up on the conversation. This piece comes as a followup to our CEO Joshua Strebel’s recent piece on why you should never pay your WordPress host for pageviews.

Managed WordPress hosting has exploded across the hosting industry since Pagely created it way back in 2006. Overall, the level of innovation that the mainstream has brought to WordPress is amazing. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes with negative side-effects. As investors demand higher profits, many of these managed WordPress hosts are looking for ways to gain a quick and easy boost to their margins.

Like we mentioned in our definitive guide to PHP workers, there are a few different metrics that are often misinterpreted, whether intentionally or not. Today, we’re going to talk about pageviews and their role in the managed WordPress hosting world.

What Counts as a Pageview?

Many hosts cite pageviews as a billing metric with vague term descriptions, if any exist at all. Even with clarified definitions, pageviews tend to mutate on a host-by-host basis with a dizzying array of buzzwords.

Although individual managed WordPress hosts vary on what they consider a “pageview”, most define it like this: pageviews are the number of unique IP addresses that access pages on your WordPress site per day, excluding known bots.

(Yeah, I know. The term is more like “the number of unique request sources per day, based on predefined catch-all filters.” But I wasn’t the one that made this up, so bear with me here.)

Pageviews as a Billing Metric

Before we dig in any deeper into the details, let’s think about the definition that I mentioned. Considering that narrative, which of these sites would be more expensive to host?

  • A directory website that houses billions of pages, showing 1,000 entries at a time.
  • A personal blog who’s majority of traffic is to single posts.
  • A documentation site where visitors typically access multiple pages per day.
  • A simple informational website for a local restaurant.
  • An online shop that sells small-batch artisanal snake oil.
  • An API that uses headless WordPress to dynamically fetch content.

If you guessed that they represent the same metrics in the eyes of pageview-based billing, your logic prevails! Assuming that they all experience the same number of unique visitors, they’re all treated the same way, regardless of how resource-intensive the site is or how many pages each visitor accesses.

Of course, it would be silly to treat all of these sites the same way. Some pages might have large amounts of fully dynamic content, while others might be eternally served from cache.

Using an umbrella term like pageviews as a billing metric causes several different issues, based on the site being hosted.

Setting Realistic Expectations

The first issue that pageview-based billing causes is an unrealistic expectation for low-performance, unoptimized sites. If you’re not familiar with how WordPress sites perform on the server side, you might think that these limits matter exclusively and use them to determine what capabilities you need from a hosting provider.

If you’re evaluating your hosting options purely based on a pageview limit, you’re ignoring critical factors that can dramatically impact your WordPress site.

Performance-Based Punishment

What if you’ve put hard work into optimizing your site? Well, now you’re wasting money on a billing metric that doesn’t matter.

If your site is highly cacheable, you’re feeling the impacts even further. When serving content from cache, it’s practically free from a hosting perspective. You’re being nickel-and-dimed for something that is entirely outside of your control.

Knowledge is Power

As you scale, knowing what you’re paying for can quickly become a critical part of maintaining a healthy, cost-effective site. Coupled with the fact that the same people who are charging for pageviews tend to hide their underlying infrastructure behind the curtains, there’s no way to verify or manipulate what’s being counted.

While many claim that they exclude the known IP addresses and user agents of known bots from counting towards your monthly pageview bill, what’s their motivation for even bothering? After all, more pageviews mean more money in their pockets.

Pageviews Are Still Helpful

Many of our prospective customers ask, “How many pageviews can ‘x’ plan handle?” Like we mentioned earlier, the impact of each pageview dramatically varies based on the type of content viewed and how your site was developed. Every WordPress site is different. It would be impossible to accurately estimate the ideal hosting environment without a complete understanding of what your site’s usage looks like.

Although pageviews are a faulty metric as far as billing is concerned, they can still be useful as part of a larger dataset. Whether you’re scaling, optimizing for better performance, or shopping for a new hosting provider, pageview data plays a role in getting a full picture of your site.

For example, if you were running benchmarks to determine your server’s capacity, pageview data could be used to identify what a typical day looks like. Let’s say your site looks something like this:

  • 10% of traffic is on the home page.
  • 30% of traffic is to various landing pages.
  • 30% of traffic is to different blog posts.
  • 20% of traffic is to your product’s pricing page.
  • 10% of traffic is on account-related pages.

Using that traffic data, you could then estimate what types of content have the most significant impact on server resources. You may find that some pages underperform and could use some optimization, while other highly-cacheable content, like blog posts or landing pages, remain essentially free. If 90% of your traffic goes to fully-cached content, increases in traffic have a trivial impact on your bottom line, if any.

Closing Remarks

Operating a WordPress site at scale is all about a delicate balance of performance and cost. At Pagely, we partner with our clients to help them achieve those goals.

While shopping for a new hosting provider, be on the lookout for hosts that impose false barriers, such as PHP worker limits and pageview counts. Those vague limitations are a red flag that they’re going to try to upsell you later.

(These limitations are also a sign that they’re trying to sell you on shared hosting resources too, but that’s a topic for another discussion entirely.)

We hope that you’ve learned more about the impact of pageviews (or lack thereof) and why it’s not an appropriate billing metric.

Do you have any experiences with pageview-based billing that you’d like to share? Is there something we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

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