Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Auditing web traffic statistics

Following some criticism by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US, two of the biggest web traffic measurement firms - Nielsen/NetRatings and ComScore - have now agreed to have their methods and numbers audited by an independent body, the Media Ratings Council. This move seems to recognise the growing importance being placed on reliable audience data by online advertisers, and the disparities that the different methods being used have thrown up in the past.

We are always highly sceptical of web traffic numbers that are touted around by web properties trying to sell advertising. If any sales person starts talking about their huge number of hits, that's an immediate turn-off, as hits are a meaningless figure. Page views or visits (total or unique) are the main currency of website traffic numbers these days, but even these can vary depending on the methods or software used to capture the data.

In the UK the Audit Bureau of Circulations has been running an Electronic arm for some years, offering web publishers and advertisers the same level of rigorous and independent audit data that the newspaper industry has used for many years. However, the methods aren't infallible as the data will also be dependent on the statistical packages provided by the publishers and, although there are over 100 sites audited in the past 12 months, this is still a small sample of sites and the entry costs are too high for many.

Measurability for online advertisers is certainly going to become a bigger issue as this market continues to grow and, although there is no perfect solution, the data that is being collected is better than nothing. It does just mean that it's OK to compare data taken from the same software or methodology, but comparing stats between different services can be more unreliable. However, there are now moves in the right direction and this area will undoubtedly improve as the pressure from the advertising market grows.


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