Finally, Quality Matters

  • by , Featured Contributor, February 22, 2007
It's nice to see the online advertising industry growing up. It was not so long ago that "hits" was the word used to describe Web traffic. There was a time when all most publishers cared about was the quantity of their page views. It was also a time when all advertisers cared about was the number of clicks on their ads. There was a time when any and all traffic was viewed as good traffic. No more. While suspect numbers and unquantifiable quantities are still counted, gone are the days when they were the currency of the realm.

Wall Street and the public markets are much more sophisticated about separating quality from quantity when online ad and ecommerce companies report numbers and metrics. Gone are the days when companies' public and private valuations went up or down on their Media Metrix and unique visitor number alone. Now, those in the financial sector look at metrics like monetization per page or per search or per user, and are much more focused on the underlying strength of business models, monetization strategies and the quality and predictability of audiences and consumers. Why do they care? Because traditional advertisers and marketers are much more rational than the dot-com folks were in the late 1990s and 2000. While Wall Street wanted to look at some of those metrics back then, online ad spending patterns were crazy and unpredictable when they were being led by companies like, PowerAgent and



We're certainly seeing a shift of focus to quality when it comes to Web publishers. While social networks are certainly the rage these days, one of the less-told stories out there has been the strong growth in pricing that quality Web publishers have seen over the past few years. It doesn't seem that long ago, 2001, that the Online Publishers Association was created to make the case for the special value of premium content publishers. Six years later, there is no question that the online ad industry much better understands -- and compensates -- Web publishers for the quality of their brands and audiences; just look at the revenue growth enjoyed by sites like, and NBC/Universal's websites. They are much more focused now on the quality of users, not just the quantity of page views. While advertisers are certainly also embracing social sites and the "long-tail" sites, there is a significant difference in the prices that they will pay for ads there, relative to the quality publishers.

The same shift is also happening -- finally -- in search. Several years ago, before we had a robust and developed industry sector and vendor base in search engine marketing and in search and Web analytics, a click was a click was a click. Those days are disappearing fast. By now, all of the major search advertisers have created sophisticated systems, processes and methodologies to manage their search campaigns -- systems that are in fact much more sophisticated than just about any agencies have to manage their online display ad businesses. Major search advertisers are now understanding the value of each click, and are starting to push the search engines to give them more control in the search bidding and buying process and a greater ability to separate the bad clicks from the good; witness developments like Yahoo!'s Panama and the attention that it has placed on click fraud. Every day, quality matters more in that sector.

What does this shift to quality mean? It means that we're growing up. It means that we're getting closer to taking share from incumbent offline media providers who have been losing the numbers game to online for years, but have maintained disproportionate shares of ad spend because of the trust that ad buyers and advertisers have placed in the "quality" of their offerings and their audiences. To me, this shift to quality means that we in the online business are moving into a position where we will have much more leverage in shifting those budgets. We've had the quantity numbers on our side for years. Now, as our ability to deliver on the quality issues hits critical mass, we can legitimately capture the trust of buyers and their advertisers -- and that will lead to their budgets.

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