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Are Web traffic statistics a game really worth playing?

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When it comes to Web ads, I’ve never appreciated the "pop-up" or the "pop-under." Advertisers who spawn multiple browser windows, Hydra-like, or hide a window beneath my work do not gain my goodwill.

My personal annoyance aside, these innovations are causing grief for companies that tally Web site traffic, not to mention the marketers who base their decisions on these numbers.

Last week, when Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. published its monthly list of top Web site destinations, the report contained a surprise: Camera maker X10 Wireless Technology Inc., Seattle, was among the Internet’s top five, following America Online, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Lycos. X10’s pop-up heavy campaign for a "Tiny wireless video camera" accounted for 95% of the traffic to its site, where unique visitors increased 87%, from 15.3 million in April to 28.6 million in May, according to Jupiter Media Metrix.

Pop-ups and other intrusive online ad formats, such as sound-and-video-enhanced superstitials, have a straightforward goal: Grab the attention of a Web surfer for an extra instant, thereby increasing the chance of a click-through or a remembered brand. As the X10 experience demonstrates, this strategy is—for now, at least—quite effective. Industry observers say pop-ups generate 5% to 6% click-through rates versus 0.5% for conventional banners.

But I’m still not a fan. First, I predict people will reject these annoying formats, ultimately deciding they are far too intrusive. Second, I worry that Web sites desperate to attract online advertisers will gravitate to these formats, a cynical choice inasmuch as they know these techniques artificially boost traffic numbers.

All this returns us to the central question of what b-to-b advertisers (and their interactive agencies) ought to be counting.

"I’m seeing a move that people are starting to get it, that clicks aren’t the be-all, end-all metric," said Robin Webster, president-CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which is devising a set of common definitions for such things as "ad impression."

Ultimately, you have to ask: Does the site with the highest traffic deserve your banner? I don’t believe so. Particularly in the case of b-to-b, demographics and performance-based metrics are much more powerful and valuable measures. Marketers should demand demographic data—how many visitors are procurement managers?—or performance data, such as how click-throughs and impressions correlate with qualified leads and sales.

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