Traffic Counting Standards Five Years in the Making

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Interactive Advertising Bureau, the industry trade association representing online ad sellers, revealed its long-anticipated guidelines for measuring and auditing online ad campaigns to try to clear up the murky business of Web advertising effectiveness.

The much-needed guidelines, five years in the making, will try to eliminate inconsistencies among online publishers and agencies as to how to count ad impressions and improve overall methods of calculating traffic on Web sites.

Ad impressions have been calculated in several different ways by publishers and ad-serving companies. Now, under the new guidelines, the IAB recommends that impressions be "recorded at a point as late as possible in the process of delivery," or at the closest possible moment that the viewer engages with the ad.

Five key metrics
The voluntary

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guidelines, the result of a six-month study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, identifies five key metrics for online advertising: ad impressions, clicks, visits, "unique" measurements (browsers, visitors and users) and page impressions.

The guidelines also address the issue of Web traffic or, more to the point, the overcounting of traffic. To manage this problem, the IAB and the interactive unit of the Audit Bureau of Circulation have identified a list of search engine "bots."

Interactive publishers are encouraged to use filter software to exclude these search engine visits from online traffic counts. The IAB has also asked publishers to use filters in counting impressions from new ad formats such as pop-ups and pop-unders, and to treat interstitials as distinct from page impressions.

Yahoo! and other leading interactive players including AOL Time Warner's America Online, DoubleClick, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and New York Times Digital participated in the creation of the guidelines, along with the Advertising Research Foundation, ABC Interactive and the Media Rating Council.

'It's about time'
"It's the first of many processes and phases to come, but it's about time," said Stacey Nachtaler, vice president of client services of i-traffic, an interactive agency whose clients include British Airways, Staples and Columbia House. The agency is a subsidiary of Agency.com, which is partly owned by Omnicom Group. "Now an advertising agency can spend less time on discreptancy resolution and more time on bottom-line revenue generation and brand-building on behalf of its clients."

Ms. Nachtaler said her agency uses central ad-serving companies for some clients to track measurements, sales and orders. But not all clients use a central server. She cited Columbia House, a marketer of CDs and DVDs online, as an example of a client for which her agency buys media based on cost per purchase instead of impressions.

In cases like that, Ms. Nachtaler said, "we will only pay media sites based on what we sell. It's not CPM, but a cost per order metric."

"The IAB standards take the suspicion out of how the site calculates the impression out of the equation," she added. "We're all now going to be using the same standard."

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