Setting a standard in Internet measurement

The main problem in attracting advertisers to a website is that there is no standard in place to measure Internet traffic.

Measurement of website traffic has seen a significant increase in publicity recently. The debate was helped along by a challenge from chief executive Marcus Leaver on this page (MW June 7).

The first thing to stress is that measuring website traffic is not a new phenomenon and is just as important as measuring the effectiveness of offline media.

What is new – and critical – is ensuring that this measurement meets industry agreed standards. Marketers wouldn’t advertise in print without the independent accountability that comes from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. So why should they be expected to forgo this same level of accountability when advertising online?

Unfortunately, many in the new media industry don’t know where to look for reliable data.

Most people agree that to move the industry forward and ensure the long-term health of brands on the Internet, accountability is key. We need to help marketers to understand how to measure website traffic and how it can support their business models. We must let them know that there is an industry standard which they can use.

Media owners, buyers and advertisers have demonstrated a need for a universally accepted currency to measure Web traffic to agreed industry standards, with consistent definitions. For instance, there is now an agreed standard to exclude so-called “robotic” traffic – automated programmes such as those used by search engines to verify the existence of a listed website – which often inflates traffic figures. Marketers have a duty to ensure they understand the significance of this and other factors.

There are two basic approaches to measuring sites: research and counting. The former is sample-based, while the latter is census-based (on log files – owned either by the sites themselves or by third parties).

What audits provide is an independent check that the counting is up to a common standard – just as it is for other media.

ABC Electronic differs from private research companies by being an industry owned, not-for-profit organisation. It has been set up to provide independent third-party auditing of websites, using industry standards endorsed by JICWEBS (The Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards in the UK and Ireland). I believe ABC Electronic has a good reputation and is responding to industry demands.

However, it is important to recognise that research companies, traffic counting solution providers and ABC Electronic all have a complementary role to play in delivering what the industry needs – credibility and certainty in a virtual world.

Actions speak louder than words and what we need is for new media companies to act now. They must implement industry standard measurement systems and ensure professionalism in the Internet marketing industry.

Richard Foan is managing director of ABC Electronic

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