Online Publishers Still Having Difficulty Counting

from the math-is-hard dept

The common advertising problem that “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” was promised to be remedied by the introduction of the supposedly measurable medium of the Internet. However, in practice, the measurement of online audiences has proven to be difficult, at best. Most recently, Comscore reported a 9.3 percent drop in Facebook’s traffic, which was met not by fears that the traffic to the super popular site was waning, but rather by explanations that that Comscore was likely under counting traffic from students who were doing their surfing from home during the summer. So, despite being around for over a decade, online publishers continue to have issues reporting consistent, accurate measures of their online audiences. Depending on who you ask, the number of pageviews for a site from one source may be double the number reported from another. To make things more confusing, earlier this year, Nielsen/NetRatings announced that it would no longer use pageviews as the standard unit of measure, opting rather for time spent on a website. As the amount of money spent on online advertising approaches $20 billion this year, this measurement issue is starting to become significant. However, this complaint about online advertising is ironic, since measurement in the other mediums is, at best, a crap shoot. Perhaps the problem with online advertising is that it, in fact, has too many numbers — with television, print and radio, audience numbers are typically estimates. So, while those numbers may not be accurate, at least they’re consistent.

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Comments on “Online Publishers Still Having Difficulty Counting”

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felix (profile) says:

Metrics are hard

I strongly agree with you! I think that if actual numbers were known in offline media, they’d see how off they were. Look at the grassroots campaigns for shows like Jericho or Party of Five (did I just date myself?) to see how whole audiences are ignored.

The thing is advertisers know this but they don’t care – as long as everyone believes the same lie. The problem with the web is that there’s too many different lies (although there is just also a dash of truth) – so people are looking around for the one they’re going to pick. Auditors want to be the chosen one and publishers want the one that will make them look best. We’ll see who takes the gold. 🙂

Rick says:

Re: done with it

Google dumped me as well for similar reasons.

Best I can tell from their vague TOS and blog, we are not allowed to advertise for traffic that lands on any page with adsense ads. Since they mix CPM and CPC together, they seem to consider generated traffic on a page with CPM ads as badly as clicking your own ads…

Technically, it’s grounds for a lawsuit, but I can’t afford to sue Google, can you?

R. H. (profile) says:

One Lie To Rule Them All

My belief is that as long as all websites and advertisers use the same metrics, flawed as they may be, they’ll all be off by the same amount and therefore will all be paid (or be paying) fairly. That’s the case with televisions Nielson ratings system. They survey quite a small portion of the American population but all of the advertisers use them so they pay the networks for commercials based on the same rates across the board. This doesn’t work online so well since there are multiple reputable services measuring website traffic using multiple metrics. So, until the field matures a bit and we figure out which metric works best for what type of website, this problem will continue.

Dr David C Payne (user link) says:

Problems with valuing online advertising

I agree with the articles underlying sentiment. If the traditional media (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) could provide the level detail available from the Internet publishers, I am certain they would really struggle to generate the income from advertisers that they currently receive for their services.

Somehow, Internet publishers have to come up with consistent, across the board, “broad-brush” measures that show the true value of the advertiser’s spend.

I believe this whole process can only be helped by the “big boys”, like Nielson’s, leading the way and putting some consistency into the measurement. It will be important to the smaller publishers (like us in Australia) that Nielson and others make their methodologies as open as they can so that the whole Internet publishing fraternity can present to advertisers on a uniform front.

Bah who needs one (user link) says:

“Until” something-or-other this problem will continue? “To make things more confusing, earlier this year, Nielsen/NetRatings announced that it would no longer use pageviews as the standard unit of measure, opting rather for time spent on a website. As the amount of money spent on online advertising approaches $20 billion this year, this measurement issue is starting to become significant.”

This is the first little puff of wind at the leading edge of a storm that will hit the entire advertising industry (online and off) with Category 5 fury, and leave a changed landscape when it dissipates. After it’s done, intrusive and annoying advertising will be as dead as the dodo, as one of the more conspicuous changes. Another is likely the downsizing of the whole industry, by a significant factor.

The flashpoint will no doubt be some combination of foo-on-demand and filtering technology, involving convergence and the absolute right (and simple physical power) of a computer owner to absolute control over their machine.

The end result will probably include all of lawsuits, attempts at ineffective regulation of how we use our own hardware, DMCA-style, and a technical arms-race between blockers, blocker-user-blockers, and blocker-dodging ads that are ever more intrustive and disruptive — and already, the worst of the lot (popup-implemented fork-bombs for example, that recursively spawn infinite browser windows with disastrous consequences, and those have been around since the nineties!) qualify as malware in my book.

And here you guys are, looking up at the sky, muttering about it being a rainy week, and reaching for your umbrellas.

In a year or two you’ll be seeing major changes in this area. In the worst case, you’ll be seeing executives BASE-jumping from their office windows without parachutes, this time without the buildings in question being on fire and about to collapse — rather, just their stock portfolios…

Max Powers at (user link) says:

Who's system is better?

With all this money being spent on advertising on the Internet, it boggles my mind how advertisers can make such big dollar decisions based on numbers generated from a company that still has not perfected a system that works.

Any company can say their method is best but who really knows? Advertising rates determined by another company is corrupt as far as I’m concerned. Can you imagine the behind the scenes bribes that must occur.

CPM Advisors (user link) says:

Wide variances in advertising figures

We have done some research on these figures and have found a 50-80% error rate in the ad spending forecasts provided by Nielsen NetRatings’ Adrelevance service. Similarly there is typically a 30-40% variance in US page view levels as reported by comScore Media Metrix and NetRatings for many sites, largely a result of issues with counting at-work users. A harder problem when you consider that a great deal of Internet usage happens at work.

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