Web Site Affinity and Online Ad Impact

Study Suggests New Ways to Evaluate Audiences

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Confirming what many long sensed, a study released today has found that online consumers who feel an affinity for a Web site's content are much more predisposed to notice and be affected by that Web site's ads.

The implications of the finding are that Web sites that draw high-affinity audiences offer more fertile ground for the same advertisements than Web sites whose audiences are low-affinity users. "Affinity" in this context refers to a sense of strong personal connection and ongoing engagement with the content of particular sites.

5,000 polled
The study, conducted by ComScore Networks, Millward Brown Intelliquest and the Online Publishers Association, polled approximately 5,000 Internet users culled from ComScore's panel of 1.5 million, and tested variables to create an affinity index. A little more than half of the survey sample were labeled high-affinity users due to their online behavior.

High-affinity online consumers are more likely to notice and involve themselves with ads, according to the study.
The findings further suggest that it may be more important for marketers to make online ad placement judgments based on the rate or concentration of audience loyalty, rather than on gross traffic statistics.

"There's been a long-standing belief that the degree to which people feel affinity toward a media property influences the way they feel about advertising on that media property, but this is the first study to our knowledge that proves [and quantifies] that high-affinity audiences are the most valuable to advertisers," said Michael Zimbalist, executive director, OPA.

Most influential factors
The study found that the three most influential factors in the creation and enhancement of a users' affinity for a site are word-of-mouth, satisfaction with content, and favorite status within an interest category such as news, sports, finance, special interests or hobbies.

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The level of the users' sense of trust in the content of a specific site was found to impact their perception about how intrusive the site's online ads were. The survey found that 75% of high-affinity users felt that ads interfered less with their experience of accessing content, compared to 31% of low-affinity users.

In other key findings, only 22% of low-affinity consumers believe that brands they see advertised are relevant, compared to 68% of high-affinity users.

30 Web sites
Conducted over a six-week period ended in early September, the study focused on consumer experiences and habits on nearly 30 Web sites including OPA member sites such as WashingtonPost.com and USAToday.com, along with AOL Time Warner's AOL and Yahoo!. Microsoft Corp.'s MSN was not part of the study.

Some 82% of high-affinity users across all the Web sites agreed that the sites for which they feel an affinity carry advertising of high-quality products and services. Only 36% of low-affinity users have that experience. Not surprisingly, high-affinity consumers read and notice online ads more, 63% and 55%, respectively, compared with 30% and 25% of low-affinity users.

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