Measurement battle heats up with new metrics

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Measuring the performance of online ad campaigns has always been a controversial issue for advertisers and Web publishers, as they wrestle with a wide variety of definitions and methods of Internet measurement, as well as the discrepancy between their numbers and those of third-party ratings services. The debate became even more heated last month when CBS MarketWatch denounced the click as a standard performance metric and said it was changing its reporting system.

Meanwhile, trade associations including the Advertising Research Foundation and the Interactive Advertising Bureau are getting closer to issuing guidelines for audience measurement, which they hope will push the industry to more standard reporting.

The ultimate goal

The ultimate goal is to convince traditional advertisers of the effectiveness of Web advertising by finding ways to prove campaign performance in terms they can relate to.

"All clicks are not created equal," said Scott McLernon, exec VP-sales and marketing at CBS MarketWatch, which is moving from DoubleClick’s Dart ad serving and reporting system to Real Media’s Open Adstream software, in an effort to gain more control over campaign reporting.

"We want to get away from the third-party model and manage reporting ourselves," McLernon said. Real Media’s software lets publishers create their own reports with metrics they define with clients, with more flexibility than the Dart reporting system, he said.

CBS MarketWatch plans to create new reports for advertisers with metrics that go beyond click-rate data, although McLernon said it would share click-rate data if the advertiser requests it. The key thing the publisher is trying to do, he said, is move to metrics that are more meaningful to traditional advertisers, such as unique users and time of day the ad is viewed.

It’s Greek to advertisers

Trade groups are pursuing a similar strategy, after having determined that traditional advertisers have been confused by the jargon created by the Internet industry.

"We invented this cockamamie jargon—clicks and ad views and page views," said Jim Spaeth, president of the ARF. "We need to direct people from this jargon to standard media terminology, and get people to talk the same language."

The ARF’s new Digital Media Measurement Council had its first meeting in New York last month to start working on measurement problems such as inconsistent definitions, sampling techniques and data discrepancy between third-party measurement companies and Web publishers.

The council is in talks with the leading third-party measurement companies, including NetRatings Inc. and Jupiter Media Metrix Inc., about their reporting methodologies. It is also updating the Coalition for Advertising Supported Information and Entertainment glossary of ad definitions to relate traditional metrics to online metrics, and is working with the IAB on an ad-serving study.

The IAB project, being conducted by Price-waterhouseCoopers, is a process study of how online ads are delivered. It includes a task force of 11 companies, including third-party servers, destination sites and portals. The IAB declined to name the companies involved in the project.

The goal of the study is to come up with standard definitions for five metrics: ad impressions, clicks, unique users, visits and page views. A preliminary report has identified the ways in which these five metrics are delivered and measured, based on actual ads served by the companies participating in the study.

The IAB will recommend one or two ways to measure each of the five metrics and issue compliance guidelines for third-party servers, sites and measurement companies.

Robin Webster, CEO of the IAB, said the organization hopes to have guidelines issued by the end of the year. "Even when we come up with guidelines, it will take time for this to get implemented," she said.

"People have spent tens of millions of dollars [on current reporting systems]," Webster noted, pointing to one of the obstacles of industry compliance. Even if these organizations do succeed in issuing guidelines the industry complies with, it may not solve the problem of having different measurement systems.

"If we are going to have any credibility as a medium, we need to be able to have one system we can point to that will answer the advertiser’s anxiety over this," said McLernon of CBS MarketWatch. "None of them are entirely accurate."

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