As the online adver­tis­ing mar­ket and breadth of pub­lish­ers have grown over the years, the con­tin­u­ing chal­lenge for adver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers alike has been telling the true story of the online audi­ence. Know­ing the real mea­sure of a site’s online audi­ence means real dollars-both in adver­tis­ing rev­enue deter­mined by CPM rates as well as mar­ket val­u­a­tion to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists for start-ups or privately-held com­pa­nies, for example.

The two estab­lished method­olo­gies that sites have come to rely on in mea­sur­ing audi­ences (vis­i­tors) include web ana­lyt­ics (server-based) data and panel-based mea­sure­ment from an opt-in group of inter­net users (the panel). To under­stand the chal­lenges that have existed between these two method­olo­gies, you first need to under­stand the objec­tives and approaches for each. Web ana­lyt­ics has gen­er­ally been used to under­stand the vis­i­tor activ­ity on a site, such as page views, videos watched, pathing through the site, con­ver­sion rates for those pur­chas­ing prod­ucts, etc. This insight pro­vided by web ana­lyt­ics has enabled innu­mer­able online busi­nesses to opti­mize their sites by pro­vid­ing bet­ter, more engag­ing expe­ri­ences for the vis­i­tor such as more effi­cient shop­ping cart processes and dis­play of more rel­e­vant con­tent based on pre­vi­ous con­tent consumption.

On the other hand, panel-based mea­sure­ment has gen­er­ally been used for com­par­a­tive mea­sure­ment between sites to effec­tively deter­mine broader vis­i­tor habits and pro­jec­tions for the greater Inter­net pop­u­la­tion. Panel-based audi­ence mea­sure­ment has pro­vided a way to mea­sure a sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant sam­ple of online audi­ences to deter­mine how one site, such as an e-commerce or news & enter­tain­ment site, would com­pare to other sites and project this to the broader Inter­net pop­u­la­tion. The panel-based mea­sure­ment approach has become one of the pri­mary ways for pub­lish­ers and adver­tis­ers to arrive at a gen­eral val­u­a­tion for adver­tis­ing rates for sites com­mand­ing cer­tain audi­ence sizes, demo­graphic makeup, and more.

Yet both method­olo­gies are not with­out their own spe­cific short­com­ings and mea­sure­ment nuances. One par­tic­u­lar issue for web ana­lyt­ics is the dele­tion of cook­ies, which are the files used to com­mu­ni­cate between that local machine and the host site to deter­mine site pref­er­ences, repeat visit activ­ity, and other anony­mous activ­ity. Cookie dele­tion on a visitor’s PC would typ­i­cally mean over count­ing that vis­i­tor as a new vis­i­tor when they are actu­ally mak­ing a repeat visit to their favorite e-commerce site, for exam­ple. Panel-based mea­sure­ment approaches usu­ally encounter issues when it comes to mea­sur­ing “at work” activ­ity as many IT orga­ni­za­tions pro­hibit the instal­la­tion of the soft­ware nec­es­sary to mea­sure the opt-in panel participant’s Web activ­ity. This means that the online activ­ity of audi­ences may be under counted since it does not include that lunch time surf­ing at work to catch up on the week­end col­lege foot­ball results at ESPN​.com. Plus, much smaller sites with niche audi­ence focus may not be ade­quately rep­re­sented in an opt-in panel which would result in under count­ing audi­ence activ­ity as well.

So how does a site come to an accu­rate or closely rep­re­sen­ta­tive view of what their audi­ence size and makeup really is? There have been a num­ber of promi­nent arti­cles writ­ten bring­ing this very issue to light, includ­ing cov­er­age in the NY Times, For­tune, and Busi­ness­Week mag­a­zine dat­ing back to Octo­ber 2006. The real­ity is that the “best” num­ber rep­re­sent­ing a site’s online audi­ence is some­where in between that pro­vided by the web ana­lyt­ics report­ing and the panel-based mea­sure­ment. So how do we get to this number?

Enter Omni­ture and com­Score. Our announce­ment on Sep­tem­ber 21 of this strate­gic part­ner­ship cre­ates a solu­tion com­bin­ing comScore’s rich audi­ence mea­sure­ment data with web site vis­i­tor data cap­tured by Omni­ture Web analytics-SiteCatalyst. This solu­tion will pro­vide adver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers with a uni­fied mea­sure­ment sys­tem result­ing in the industry’s most com­pre­hen­sive view of dig­i­tal audi­ence mea­sure­ment. This strate­gic solu­tion will ben­e­fit pub­lish­ers, which become more appeal­ing to adver­tis­ers by pro­vid­ing more com­pre­hen­sive data on site vis­i­tors, par­tic­u­larly smaller pub­lish­ers who may have been pre­vi­ously under-represented to adver­tis­ers. And it will also ben­e­fit adver­tis­ers, which can use this com­pre­hen­sive view of dig­i­tal audi­ence mea­sure­ment for more tar­geted media planning.

This is a really excit­ing devel­op­ment which will pro­vide these adver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers the con­fi­dence to rely on one set of met­rics for a con­sis­tent mea­sure of audi­ence reach and online ad per­for­mance. This solu­tion will reduce com­plex­ity, save time, and enable adver­tis­ers & pub­lish­ers to increase return on ad spend (ROAS) in an increas­ingly frag­mented dig­i­tal marketplace.

So, will this new choco­late (web ana­lyt­ics) and peanut but­ter (panel data) com­bi­na­tion taste good for your busi­ness? Let us know what you think!

Eric T. Peterson
Eric T. Peterson

Matt, I gotta say when I heard about this partnership last week I was amazed, even in the midst of the your amazing acquisition news. While the devil is in the details you guys should be applauded for recognizing and working to bridge this critical gap. With excellent execution --- and keep in mind ** everyone ** will be watching this come together --- Omniture and comScore have the potential to simultaneously end the bitter debate over "who's numbers are better" ** and ** allow combined customers to begin to report on visitors using the IAB's (very good IMHO) definition. Clearly I have a vested interest here as the obnoxious voice who just kept repeating over and over "Yes, we can generate a better approximation for the number of actual human beings who visit a web site, and no, we don't have to settle for watered down pablum and puke just because "it's the best we can do ..." Still, I know I am not alone in wishing you and the team at comScore the best in this partnership. Also, nice of you to leave the door open for everyone else to follow suit. Thanks! Sincerely, Eric T. Peterson Web Analytics Demystified, Inc.