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Publishers offer advanced Web behavior measurement

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Last month, CNet Networks Inc. announced plans to launch its new Trax marketing measurement tool on the business technology portals of its Web site in the coming months. Introduced a few months ago on its GameSpot site, Trax is designed to provide real-time online market research for a marketer’s own products and those of its competitors.

"We use it every day on every product," said Tony Kee, VP-marketing for Ubi Soft Entertainment, a videogame producer. "It’s a really strong first step to figuring out how to use our advertising."

Could it be that all those World Wide Web promises from 1998—about how the Internet would make precise target marketing a reality and would produce instantaneous market research—are finally coming true? While the Web has excelled at providing marketers with data on search terms and commerce—essentially the beginning and end of the buying cycle—less has been done to provide feedback on what prospects do during the rest of the buying cycle. Behaviors like downloading white papers, case studies or trial software and comparing products have been, comparatively, under the radar.

Now CNet and other large Internet properties—such as The Wall Street Journal Online, Forbes.com and New York Times Digital—have begun to change that, introducing new services (or enhancing old ones) that make remarkable strides in providing targeted advertising and market research.

Access to this sort of data is especially useful to b-to-b marketers, who sell products and services with long and complicated buying cycles.

Charlene Li, principal analyst for Forrester Research Inc., is among those giving CNet’s Trax a positive review. "It’s quite revolutionary," Li said. "Never [before] have we had a way to measure the level of engagement someone has."

Because Trax also supplies data on competitive products, "it gives you a proxy analysis of how well you’re doing in the consideration stage versus other products," said Rob Cosinuke, president-global capabilities at interactive marketing company Digitas Inc., Boston. "It’s a great missing link that should be very useful."

CNet’s Trax provides data to marketers via a Web-based dashboard. The data provided are updated continually and can be exported to an Excel file. Currently, Trax is offered as a value-added service to CNet advertisers on GameSpot, but the company said it foresees charging for it in the future.

In addition to providing up-to-the-minute data on how prospects are engaging with a marketer’s product or brand, Trax can provide insight on how an advertising campaign, a press release or other marketing communications effort—offline or online—is performing, based on spikes in, say, white paper downloads.

May support print efforts

One ironic effect of such online systems may be to prove the ROI of print advertising.

"They can start seeing the buzz they’re generating and figure out what marketing is working," said Denise Garcia, principal analyst-media and advertising for GartnerG2, a unit of Gartner Inc. "They can also figure out what is working for their competitors and head those competitors off at the pass, so to speak."

Ubi Soft’s Kee said the Trax tool does reveal advertising’s impact. "When we advertise online, we definitely see spikes online," he said. "When we advertise in print, we have not yet established a correlation between print advertising and the spikes online."

Barry Briggs, CNet’s COO, said that some of the limitations Kee perceives may become less important when Trax moves to the company’s tech segments, which attract broader audiences.

Other publishers

Last month, The Wall Street Journal Online introduced what it calls "interest-based targeting." Using software from Revenue Science Inc., this feature could enable a technology marketer, for instance, to target its online advertising to Online Journal visitors who have shown previous interest in technology, even if that visitor has left the tech section of the site.

While he likes this capability, Randy Kilgore, VP-advertising for the online Journal, wants it placed in the proper context. "It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary," he said.

But GartnerG2’s Garcia has a different take. "I think it’s a giant step forward," she said. "It’s exactly what marketers want and have wanted." Garcia also cites the NYTimes.com’s surround sessions as a strong step forward in Web advertising. Surround sessions also offer advertisers the ability to follow visitors with an evolving marketing message as they travel around the site.

In fact, the Times site has tweaked the surround sessions since their introduction in 2001. In particular, the sessions now are served to ever more precise targets.

"We’re not going to waste it [a session] on someone who has a history of looking at less than five pages," said Craig Calder, VP-marketing for New York Times Digital.

Forbes.com is another site that has improved its ability to target business people precisely. Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com, said that the Web site, using IP addresses of visitors, can enable advertisers to target employees of a specific company.

The ability to target customers via Internet data is not limited to Web publishing operations, nor is the ultimate targeting taking place online.

For example, online research firm comScore Networks, through its acquisition of MediaMetrix, tracks the Web surfing habits of its panel of 1.5 million users worldwide.

But by tracking e-commerce purchases, it has discovered that its data about online purchases mirror data about offline purchases.

ComScore supplies its data, which can be processed and released faster than data from most government agencies and other sources, to financial services companies.

"If we’re a step or two ahead of other industry sources, such as the government … those couple of steps can make a big difference," said Dan Hess, comScore’s VP-industry analysis and marketing.

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