Advertisers say Web site audits are becoming more important in their media buying decisions. But there's still a big gap between what they say they want and what they're getting.
Currently, only about 20% of the 1,200 to 1,500 ad-supported Web sites are audited, according to estimates from Jupiter Communications and audit bureaus.
And while these audited sites account for the vast majority of traffic on the Web--at least 80%, according to industry estimates--that still leaves many small and midsize sites that aren't providing this service to advertisers.
"WHERE'S THE AUDIT?"
"The biggest resistance [from Web sites] is that they say the media buying community is not asking for audits," said Peter Black, senior VP-marketing at auditor BPA Interactive, New York, which has about 40 Web clients, including CMPnet, Four11 and beZerk.com.
"Until media buyers demand it, [Web sites] don't want to spend the money to do it," he said, pointing to a rough cost of $8,000 a year for BPA's auditing reports.
But that's not what some Web sites and networks are saying.
"The first thing [advertisers] ask me is, `Where's the audit?' " said Anna Zornosa, senior VP-advertising sales for push service PointCast Network, Cupertino, Calif., which today announces its first audit by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
IAB RELEASES GUIDELINES
Among the findings from the PointCast audit is verified traffic of more than 1 million users per month, who spend an average of 30 minutes per day interacting with PointCast advertising, Ms. Zornosa said.
"Until you have something audited, the media community doesn't accept it as real," she added.
ABC, Schaumburg, Ill., has about 80 Web clients, including Yahoo!, ZDNet and C/NET.
There are several reasons why more sites may not be taking advantage of third-party audits.
One has been a lack of standards that define what is being measured. The industry is trying to solve that problem, with the Internet Advertising Bureau last week releasing its guidelines for measurement of comparable online data.
The guidelines, available at IAB's Web site, define basic media measurement terms, such as page requests, for sites collecting their own data and for third-party measurement and audit companies.
HELPING MADISON AVE.
Once the guidelines are implemented, advertisers should have more consistent, comparable information to help them make media buying decisions across Web sites.
"We will have reporting that Madison Avenue can believe in," said Rich LeFurgy, SVP-advertising at ESPN/ABC News Internet Ventures and chairman of the IAB.
Another issue is that many advertisers say they want more than just traffic reports from third-party auditors. They want to verify delivery of ad impressions, click-through rates and other ad activity at the site.
"I don't care if you have 30 million page views or 3 million page views," said John Nardone, director of media research at TN Technologies Modem Media, Westport, Conn. "I just want to make sure my pages are delivered."
Other advertisers agree.
"At a particular stage, clients are going to need to have some form of assurance that they got what they bought," said Rishad Tobaccowala, president of Leo Burnett USA's Giant Step interactive agency, Chicago, referring to proof of ad impressions delivered.
"They're going to need to find that data from someone besides the person who took their money," he said, referring to Web sites.
While many Web sites do provide advertisers with reports showing ad impressions delivered and click-through rates--generated either in-house or by software companies such as NetGravity and Focalink--advertisers say they need this information to be verified by an outside auditor.
But that's where the message is getting lost. Virtually all of the auditing bureaus have for some time been providing reports that audit not just Web traffic, but ad impressions and click-throughs.
The BPA has been providing advertiser-specific audit reporting, verifying total ad impressions served, number of ad clicks and click-through percentage, by day and by week, for more than a year, for $200 a month. So far, not one client has signed up for it.
"Unless [advertisers] are putting pressure on the sites, [sites] are not going to be interested," said Glenn Hansen, senior VP-auditing at BPA.
DEMAND GROWING FOR REPORTS
Web auditor Internet Profiles Corp. (I/PRO), San Francisco, has a similar report, called a post-buy audit report. Priced at $100 a month, the report audits ad views, page views, ad clicks and click-through percentages. Only about 10% of I/PRO's clients now subscribe.
I/PRO's pre-buy reports, which verify a site's traffic, cost $750 a month. I/PRO has about 75 clients subscribing to its pre-buy audits, including ComputerWorld, Cox Interactive Media, Digital City Chicago and other sites.
Mr. Reed said demand for the post-buy reports has been growing over the last three to four months, as technology has developed that lets Web sites rotate banner ads.
With banner rotation, advertisers need reports that show how many of their ads are actually being delivered, he said.
"It's definitely a communications issue," Mr. Reed said. "Advertisers are just now starting to realize they need to go beyond the question of asking, `Are you audited?' "
There does seem to be an increasing effort among auditors to deliver their message to advertisers and Web sites.
ABC, NETGRAVITY TEAM UP
ABC is now working with NetGravity to design "auditability" into NetGravity's 3.0 ad server software, by ensuring that NetGravity collects sufficient data to reflect still-developing measurement standards.
ABC is also creating an interface between its audit software and NetGravity's server software, which will be beta tested with Hot Wired (www.hotwired.com) starting today.
Meanwhile, BPA has introduced a software certification service for companies that provide counting and traffic analysis.
And I/PRO is pitching its post-buy audit reports at every presentation, Mr. Reed said.
Now, advertisers, Web sites and auditors need to keep communicating their issues, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Copyright September 1997, Crain Communications Inc.