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!