INTERNET VISITORS' TRAFFIC JAM MAKES BUYERS WEB WARY :MEASURING HITS' WORTH AS AD MEDIUM REMAINS KEY PROBLEM

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In the marketing world today, there's no escaping the new media, particularly the World Wide Web. Advertisers have flocked to the new media with the hopes and expectations that the information superhighway will become the next mass medium.

The conundrum, however, is no one can agree on how to measure the traffic visiting the ever-proliferating number of Web pages, or even, at this early juncture, whether it is absolutely necessary to know the exact head count.

"I compare this period.... that we're in right now with the Internet to the early days of cable television," says Mike Lotito, chief media officer, Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York.

"Five years ago, you couldn't get an independen t rating on what was happening with any particular cable station, except whatever numbers the cable stations had to give you," he continues. "But advertisers were willing to spend on cable because they're always looking for new w ays to communicate with consumers. They're so hungry to try something new that they're not so concerned at the outset with how many and who exactly is tuning in."

rudimentary methods around.

Just because there's no consensus on how t o measure Web traffic doesn't mean there aren't plenty of companies trying to devise measurement methods. And there are rudimentary methods already in use that can count the number of "clicks" and Web site "click throughs."

"It 's easy enough already to measure the traffic and where it's coming from," notes Greg Smith, manager of nontraditional media, Zenith Media, New York. "It performs like a direct-response model, and that measurement method has been accepted, at least for now."

3M Co.'s Buf Puf brand, which launched a Web site for teens in April, has to date been pleased with the audience quantification rates supplied to it through agency Martin/Williams Advertising, Minneapo lis. "We've been able to track not only the 'hits' but what the audience is seeking beyond the home page," says Dani Bigelbach, brand supervisor, Buf Puf. "We're interested in the overall number of user sessions, which we calcul ate has been in the range of 1,000 daily."

EIGHT TO 10 PAGES PER SESSION

What Buf Puf has been able to track is that its visitors are clicking through an average of eight to 10 pages per user session, a measurement of time that "we think is more valuable than the sheer numbers," says Ms. Bigelbach.

Buf Puf, like many advertisers, invites visitors to supply information about themselves, including e-mail addresses and their reaction to the material posted on t he Web site. That information, says Ms. Bigelbach, is even more valuable to Buf Puf than the actual number of visitors.

"Having numbers is great, but it's not telling us much," she says.

LEARNING PROCESS

Experience judging the numbe rs is something that will only come with time, media executives say. "Like all new media, interactive media has to go through a period when it has to learn how to measure itself," says Steve Horton, manager of interactive/new med ia at Martin/Williams Advertising.

"And experience is something that we don't have right now, although we're all trying to accumulate that experience as quickly as possible," he says.

COMPETITORS EMERGE

Already, competing measuremen t systems are emerging from such media measurement companies such as Competitive Media Reporting (which has formed AdLab to track Internet magazine advertising content) and Audit Bureau of Circulations. AdLab has documented the gro wth in Internet magazine advertising on a month-by-month basis (see table at right).N: This is a reference to mweb.ch1, whch shows ad activity month to month.j

Others include:as well as from emerging companies, such as Internet Prof iles Corp. (I/PRO), which has teamed with Nielsen Media Research; Next Century Media, which has joined forces with Arbitron; Price Waterhouse, which acquired a minority stake in NetCount, and PC-Meter, a subsidiary of NPD Group, al l of which are devising new-media measurement and comparison standards.

So far, most measurement systems can determine the number of clicks on a particular site or page, as well as track the machine address of the Internet provider or the domain name (i.e., crain.com). "We're all working through a process of trying to determine what is the best way to measure Web traffic," says Richard Fusco, VP-marketing and business development, Next Century Media, Woodst ock, N.Y. "We know that advertising ultimately will not work unless there is some degree of standardization. It's exciting to be part of that process, trying to develop something that will be as widely regarded as the Arbitron or Nielsen book."

DEMOGRAPHICS ENTICING

"I truly believe that a year from know, this won't be an issue, simply because there are so many [companies] trying to develop measurement standards," says Steve Grubbs, senior VP-national broa dcast buying, BBDO Worldwide, New York. "Will there be competing systems? I certainly hope so!"

What advertisers ultimately seek, however, are the kinds of in-depth demographic and psychographic information about Web page users that television, magazines, radio and newspapers provide about their viewers and subscribers."Advertisers certainly are pushing for measurement standards, and that in turn pushes us to work hard to make them happen," says Joe Philpo rt, exec VP-national media at Competitive Media Reporting"We know that advertisers aren't going to wait forever....to know how their Web site ranks compared to the competition."

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