Commentary

Want Accurate Audience Measurement? Say Hello to the Internet

Last week, comScore Media Metrix released its rankings of the U.S. Top 50 Internet properties for May 2002 based purely on traffic.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the pointlessness of ranking sites by traffic volume than comScore Media Metrix’s “Top Newcomers” - sites that appeared in the ratings for the first time with at least 500,000 unique visitors for the month. Among them was a site offering instructions on how to fold a U.S. dollar bill to reveal images purportedly related to the Sept. 11 attacks (871,000 unique visitors.)

While I suspect that All Brevard Web Sites, Inc., the Florida company that posted the “Amazing $20 Bill 9/11 Coincidence,” doesn’t have much of a sales staff, if they did there would be a flurry of activity to try and capitalize on the site’s appearance on the Top Newcomers list. And who knows, maybe some naive advertiser might buy it. Hook, line and sinker.

While unique audience numbers are fun to rank, they fail to tell the advertiser ANYthing about the site’s audience. One of the major criticisms of media audience measurement systems is their failure to accurately tell advertisers if the viewer/listener/reader is a hot body (someone well within the psycho/demo/geographic parameters of the target audience) or a cold body. In the upfront market, billions of dollars were just bet on forecasts of potential audiences regardless of television’s inability to assure efficient delivery of ads to target audience segments.

Meanwhile, the only medium that is ALL about information, already knows more about its users than nearly any other medium and is the only medium addressing this issue head-on, is getting table scraps.

DoubleClick has launched SiteAdvance, a hosted website measurement and analysis solution for online merchants that enables them to understand the interaction between marketing programs, site traffic and online transactions, to help them improve online commerce results. For content and commerce web publishers, former Real Media CEO Dave Morgan has launched Tacoda Systems, a sophisticated audience management software program that gathers user data from numerous sources across websites to compile profiles of audience members.

In both cases, the data is fresh, real and actionable. It is not based on some six month-old diary of “what I think I was watching at the time,” or some mall intercept asking if you remember certain covers of a magazine. (I was once given one of these readership tests and as a marketer, was appalled at how imprecise both the procedure and the collected information were.) Meanwhile, Tacoda can tell you within hours who was on your site, what they did there, if they bought anything, if they subscribed to anything, if they clicked on ads, etc. etc. The closest other media can come to that kind of fresh data is overnights and they are only guesstimates broken out in broad demographic/geographic segments.

While other media fear the inevitable march of technology (read: suing to make sure audiences don’t skip ads when they replay digitally-downloaded TV shows), the Internet embraces it, each quarter getting closer and closer to the holy grail of marketing, the ability to deliver an appropriate message to a unique individual and allow him/her to take immediate action.

So, while we’re having a little fun with our audience “standings” we’re keeping our eye on the prize and one day, TV will eat our table scraps.

John Durham is COO of Interep Interactive.

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