My post last month on unique visitors caused quite the uproar in the Web analytics community. For those of you in that space, I am sure you followed the week-long drama that ensued, while hopefully you folks in the advertising community were spared.
I will start this post by saying that my intention was not to ruffle feathers with the IAB regarding their recent publishing of Audience Measurement Guidelines. If my tone or verbiage suggested that, please forgive me. Those who know me well will tell you that I have great affection for the IAB. I have had the opportunity to work directly with their team to discuss standards (theirs and the WAA's) and to better understand their membership and how they view the online space. The work that they do in conjunction with the MRC is invaluable -- and their dedication and passion for advancing interactive advertising should be highly respected.
So even though we have differing opinions at times and have more work to do to create standards that will transcend different segments of the online space, we are all in this thing together, yes? If you really think about it, we are all part of one big food chain. Companies buy advertising so that they can either move shelf product or drive clicks back to their Web sites. The cycle flows such that audience measurement data is used to steer the buy, ad server data is used to execute the campaign, and Web analytics data is used to measure results on the Web site (in addition to the ad server data, of course). We have a lot of challenges in a space that is constantly innovating and includes so many technologies to bring it all together. Aren't we lucky?
Yes, we are very lucky. For an economy that is shedding entire industries and forcing others to contract, the online advertising space continues to grow and evolve. It is not just about hits and page views anymore. We are measuring people, perceptions and tone as more users come online, and content is both publisher- and user-generated. And sometimes we aren't even measuring, we are listening and evaluating to make judgment calls on positive and negative conversations and how (or if) we should respond.
So why would Perez Hilton be proud? He would be proud because we've taken something as geeky and boring as data and surrounded it with incredible passion (fiery passion at that!). One would think that Britney had gotten into a catfight with Lindsay based on the amount of blog postings, comments, emails and phone calls that followed regarding what we should call a unique visitor and how we should calculate it. Opinions are good -- can you imagine if no one even cared?
At the end of the day, we all want the perfect solution for measuring unique visitors, cookies, users, browsers and people. It isn't an
easy problem to solve and who knows if we (the constituents in the industry) will ever agree that it is being done "correctly." For now, we have a lot of dialogue and we have forward
momentum. A year from now, I'm sure we will be in a different place. I am staying in the mix to see where the conversation takes us, and I encourage you to do the same.
Sorry. I missed the previous article. So I'm a little late to the party.
Back in 2002 when I was with ABC Interactive, I authored a white paper where we measured web site traffic using a few different twists of the WAA definition of uniques (which was essentially similar to what IAB had published). The "twists" were methods that we knew were in use by commercial measurers or large publishers. We did not name the publishers. That paper showed HUGE swings based on slight tweaks in methodology. We thus demonstrated that the definition was flawed.
Now in 2009 the IAB has grabbed the bull by the horns and has attacked the deficiencies we elaborated in the white paper. As such, the IAB standard actually addresses the correct counting of people (unique visitors).
Being a member of the IAB committee, I can state that members of the WAA were approached, but there was little participation, which is unfortunate.
But in my humble opinion, its about time that the industry started straightening out many of these misunderstandings (or misrepresentations). If someone wants to count cookies, then call them cookies. But if we're counting unique visitors, then let's count them in a manner that measures people.
I agree with Richard. Strategically decide WHAT you're going to count and be VERY careful to correctly title your metric. Otherwise your efforts are futile.
And if you're going to count people (which is what I believe the end-game should be), this means that server-centric metrics can NOT be used for audience measurement - something I have long espoused down here in Australia. Server-centric data is traffic measurement. And while we're at it, let's NOT call server analytic systems "Web Analytics" - that implies that they are measuring the whole web when they don't - let's call them "Site Analytics", a detailed and in-depth analysis of traffic to a group of commonly owned sites but not the whole Web.