IndustryWeek.com, the Penton Media Web site covering the manufacturing sector, attracted 289,914 unique visitors in February, according to BPA Worldwide-Nielsen figures.
According to Compete.com, IndustryWeek.com had significantly fewer unique visitors—45,014—that same month.
The site had 38,000 unique visitors, according to comScore.
Quantcast placed February uniques for IndustryWeek.com even lower, at 14,900, but the online traffic measurement company cautioned that the figure was an estimate and gauged U.S. traffic only.
The wide discrepancies in “uniques” for this single online destination illuminate a long-term problem in the measurement of Web traffic, particularly for b-to-b media sites. In many cases, the panels typically used by comScore and others to measure Web traffic focus on consumer Internet users and largely ignore business users.
“The sample is skewed more toward the home user,” said Jerome Shaver, director of analytics and intelligence at ThomasNet.
“The most measurable of all media is not as measurable as everyone thinks,” said Peter Black, senior VP-business development at BPA Worldwide.
But BPA and other Web measurement companies are taking steps to change measurement processes, which may lead to a more accurate—or more consistent—tallying of unique visitors. Among the initiatives:
ComScore will officially debut Media Metrix 360 this spring.
BPA and Nielsen have formed an alliance to audit b-to-b Web sites. Additionally, BPA last month announced a relationship with Bizo, a b-to-b ad network.
The issues these entities are trying to address involve some of the inherent difficulties in measuring Web traffic. “There's nothing simple about audience measurement,” said Tom Drouillard, president-U.S. of Nielsen Online.
Most audience measurement services use a panel method. These services recruit panelists, whose Web visits are then tracked via software. Most of these panelists are consumers for two main reasons: 1) The typical C-level executive tends not to have time to register for panels, and 2) most business IT directors don't want panel-tracking software behind their firewalls.
Another problem is that b-to-b media Web sites, by their niche nature, do not attract many visitors. So the count, which is based on a limited sample, is often not statistically valid.
The alternative to the panel method has been census-based measurement. This method examines a Web site's servers to determine the number of visitors.
But this method has its own limitations. First, it must factor out spiders and bots. Second, it must account for cookie deletion, which some experts believe can inflate a Web site's unique visitor count by 100%. And finally, it offers no window into the demographics of site visitors.
This state of affairs, with neither panel- nor census-based systems offering a complete audience measurement solution for b-to-b Web sites, has led media buyers to find creative ways to assess online b-to-b media.
“We do a more qualitative analysis of a Web site, since we don't have the quantitative data,” said Andy Brunn, senior media planner at Roberts Communications. “We look at the quality of the design, how often it's updated, what sorts of ad units they have, if they have interactive tools. Those are the types of things we look for.”
For b-to-b publishers, the inconsistency of online audience measurement is more than an inconvenience. It can cost them money. Dan Kimball, VP-marketing at CoStar Group, said the underreporting of unique visitors reduces the amount the company can charge for commercial real estate advertising on its Web site.
Measurement services are taking steps to improve audience data and trying to merge the best of the panel system with the census-based method.
BPA entered into a strategic relationship with Nielsen Online in 2008. Nielsen placed a beacon on BPA-audited Web sites that helped measure traffic—but it didn't supply demographic information. Late in March, BPA announced an agreement with Bizo that builds on the Nielsen arrangement. Through Bizo, BPA can now track business demographics of some of the visitors to its audited Web sites.
“What's exciting about this is that the b-to-b space is finally getting its due,” said Russell Glass, CEO of Bizo. “Before, if you look at Quantcast, Nielsen and comScore, it's all b-to-c. The b-to-b world was largely overlooked.”
ComScore's Media Metrix 360, a program that was announced last year and will be launched officially this spring, combines census- and panel-based methods. In addition to the panel, Media Metrix 360 places software on measured sites to get direct measurement of visitors, page views and other metrics.
Quantcast, which introduced its service in 2006, has been a pioneer in combining census- and panel-based measurement, and is said to be influencing the moves made by other online measurement companies.
By cross-referencing traffic at more than 10 million Web sites, Quantcast uses a statistical model to “infer” what kind of people are visiting what sites and in what numbers. Describing the approach, Quantcast CMO Adam Gerber said, “It's kind of like a giant crossword puzzle.” M