I/Pro To Offer Incentives For Audits

I/Pro, a third-party online auditor, and traditional auditor BPA, plan to offer small to mid-sized commercial Web sites a shot at big Web ad dollars if they subject themselves to an audit--and pass. An unidentified group of 12 ad agencies, which wants to accurately evaluate the reach metrics of niche sites too small for Nielsen and comScore to track, has promised I/Pro it will set aside $125 million for sites worthy of I/Pro's seal of approval.

The "Request for Proposals Program," which the San Francisco-based I/Pro expects to announce on Tuesday, is intended to establish a traffic standard for smaller sites, give advertisers a way to reach the growing number of surfers with specific interests who avoid larger portals, and, hopefully, turn a profit.

"It's like getting a free pass to the final round of 'American Idol' for these smaller sites who are normally locked out because they don't fit into the syndicated planning data," said David Barlin, vice president of marketing at I/Pro. "A subset of the approximately 25 ad agencies we work with have agreed to give these sites a serious chance to compete for their ad dollars."

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Increasing competition for ad inventory, which is driving up prices at the 50 largest sites, has given ad agencies incentives to find alternative ways to spend their money. In 2004, average cost per thousand impressions are up 10 to 12 percent, according to Merriman Curhan Ford & Co.

Analysts estimate that commercial Web sites dedicated to niche subjects--ranging from business-to-business sites to, say, snowblower aficionado sites--number in the hundreds of thousands. I/Pro expects to grow their online base from about 500 Web sites to more than 50,000 over the next few years, and leaves it to advertisers to determine a site's status--niche, medium, and large--and whether a site requires an audit or not. "Whenever an agency feels they need confidence in the data, that's where we come in," said Barlin.

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