NEWSPAPERS: ONLINE AUDIT STICKING POINT FOR PAPERS: PROPONENTS SPLIT ON IMPORTANCE FOR WINNING AD DOLLARS TO SITES

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Audits, the cornerstone for establishing the legitimacy of a newspaper's circulation figures, are a luxury in the rough-and-tumble world of online publishing.

"The bottom line is that the need for a third-party audit is not as great as in traditional media," says Bill Bass, an analyst with Forrester Research. "You don't have to do a proxy to know how many people your Web ad is reaching."

Many Internet advertisers say the auditing practices of a site are not as significant as its demographic composition.

CONTENT MORE IMPORTANT

Michele Madansky, says the content of a site is far more important to than any audited numbers.

She emphasizes that, if a site is not reviewed by a third party, she would not automatically rule it out as a buy-particularly if it contains quality content.

Online auditing works much like traditional print media: an independent agent checks the veracity of information reported by a company about traffic to its Web site. Auditing services from companies including Audit Bureau of Circulations, BPA International, and I/Pro are three services that check data generated by sites-visits, page impressions, ad impressions and ad click-throughs.

Jim Conaghan, director of marketing and business analysis for Newspaper Association of America, says some national advertisers are asking for Web site audit information from his constituency, but these are proving to be the exceptions.

SOME SAY AUDITS CRUCIAL

Many online newspaper executives, however, say the auditing reports are crucial to selling advertising for their sites.

"It's nearly impossible for us to close a sale without audited information," says Kurt Fliegel, interactive advertising manager for

Once on board, however, advertisers are most concerned with the responses their advertising generates, says Mr. Raece.

PLEA FOR COMMON SENSE

Some advertisers find common sense works better than audits. Cindy Amari, sales and marketing manager for Old Original Bookbinder's, an advertiser on The Philadelphia Inquirer & News' online news service, says she selected the Audit a sticking point

site primarily because of the newspaper's reputation.

"Honestly, auditing information wasn't a concern," says Ms. Amari.

She says her restaurant can track the effectiveness of its advertising by the number of customers who redeem coupons pulled from the Internet ad.

UNIQUE URL'S USED

Advertisers have a host of technological tools at their disposal, which mitigate the importance of auditing.

For example, Amazon.com, a leading book vendor on the Web, codes each of its ads with a unique URL address. With this and other data it collects, Amazon.com can cross-check a site's numbers to make sure they are in the ballpark.

Mike Lavery, president of Audit Bureau of Circulations, admits that demand for auditing still is low.

"It may not be as high a priority for people at this point because of the immaturity of the medium," says Mr. Lavery.

Still, he predicts demand for Web auditing will grow.

Certainly, auditing services need to improve if newspapers are to embrace the technology. Many newspapers find the services expensive. ABC, for example, costs $400 to $1,500 per audit-a steep price for online.

More than 500 U.S. daily papers now have Web sites, with roughly 60% of those having circulation under 30,000.

TECHNICAL WOES

Technical difficulties are also hampering audits. Industry executives report some auditing software has caused Web servers to crash, while some newspapers have moved to a new service in hopes of better results.

SLOW RESPONSE

Other advertisers criticize auditing services for not being quick enough to keep up with the rapid pace of Internet advertising.

Jodi DeLeon, advertiser manager, Amazon.com, says audit reports take so long to arrive they become meaningless. Advertising campaigns are over before she ever sees the information. Rather than audits, Ms. DeLeon is more concerned that sites provide timely information on ad impressions.

In other matters, industry executives have criticized I/Pro for putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop, since it offers both a counting and an auditing.

With only three Internet auditing services, newspapers don't have many options.

"Obviously, it's not an ideal situation," says Mr. Fliegel.

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