The bad news: Instead of being less confusing, Web measurement is now probably more confusing than it was just a few months ago.
"We're light years ahead of where we were six months ago. But we still have light years to go," said Rich LeFurgy, VP-director of advertising and product marketing at Seattle-based Starwave Corp.
"While we know how many times our site has been accessed by a user and the number of times an ad was seen, we don't know exactly who is coming to our site at a particular moment nor who is looking at different ads," said Mr. LeFurgy. "No one's come up with a good solution for identifying demographics."
The Coalition for Advertising Supported Information & Entertainment, which last October issued a set of guidelines for Web measurement, is still trying to figure out how best to implement them, said Judy Black, senior partner-director of interactive and new-media technologies at BJK&E Interactive Group, New York, and a member of the CASIE research committee.
Still, there's no denying Web measurement is evolving in record time.
"We can now go to our clients with a much better post-program evaluation than we ever did before," said John Nardone, director of media and research services at Modem Media, Westport, Conn. "And we now have much more information on the front end before we make the buy."
Internet Profiles Corp., San Francisco, has emerged as the early market leader in Web measurement, thanks in part to a partnership with Nielsen Media Research to market its counting and auditing products, I/Count and I/Audit.
Los Angeles-based NetCount has achieved some following due to its willingness to offer basic services for free. It recently cut prices on its Plus service, which generates reports on site traffic.
Meanwhile, a significant number of Web companies, including Organic Online (developer of Advertising Age's Web site), remain convinced that they can do a better job of tracking site traffic than an outside measurement company.
COUNTS ARE STILL INEXACT
Although measurement has improved, the tools still don't provide an exact count of Web visitors, something many site owners want.
Instead, measurement companies estimate the number of visitors.
"There are two real concerns of measurement," said David Carlick, general manager of Poppe Tyson's poppe.com interactive unit in Mountain View, Calif., and a member of I/Pro's board of directors. "One concerns banner sales on a media site: which banners provide the most reach for the least money...The second-and where the real effort and money will be spent in the long run-is understanding the use of an advertiser's site by its own prospects: who is responding to offers, how many try the product and register as users."
What's still needed, agency executives say, is a way to compare activity across sites.
"We want to get all of our client Web sites tracked to gauge the response of different sites and see how they are doing in relation to other sites," said Jeff Ratner, manager of new technologies for Young & Rubicam, New York, which is working with NetCount.
Determining actual users will take even more time. I/Pro had hoped to launch its I/Code site registration system with a promotion in January but has pushed the start date back to March 1.
Others are developing software that lets users create various profiles depending on what information they want to reveal to a particular Web site. But the problem of getting people to comply remains.