And while there's certainly no dearth of research companies providing Web usage and tracking information, with startups such as @plan and RelevantKnowledge entering the field, there are still voids that need to be filled.
EASIER TO USE DATA
Web sites and advertisers say they'd like to see more of the following from research and measurement companies:
n More published information.
n Easier to use data.
n More timely reports and analysis.
n More comparative data in a standardized format.
Chief among the concerns cited by Web ad buyers and sellers contacted by Advertising Age for this report is the need for more widely available data from research companies that provide insight on how many users are visiting specific sites, their activity there and how they're responding to the new medium.
"There are so many companies doing research. One of the things I'm kind of amazed with is their lack of getting the word out," said Karen Edwards, director of marketing at search engine Yahoo!
ISSUE DIVIDING ONLINE INDUSTRY
She said even though she's willing to pay for data from companies such as market researcher NFO Research and audience measurement company Media Metrix (formerly PC Meter), she would like to see more widely published data to help the industry's cause.
"I just wish more research companies would take a proactive position in helping online media," she said.
While many other Web sites and advertisers share this view, the issue is a heated one and is dividing the online industry.
Many companies that provide syndicated research on overall Web usage and trends, such as Jupiter Communications (www.jup.
com) and Forrester Research (www.forrester.com), regularly publish at least top-line data in executive summary form and on their Web sites, with the goal of selling complete reports at hefty prices.
KEEPING INFO UNDER THE BELT
But generally, research and measurement companies that provide site-specific data on Web traffic and usage have kept most of their information under the belt, and with good reason.
"Our business is the data," said Mary Ann Packo, president of Media Metrix, New York, which provides Web usage and demographic information from a panel of 10,000 U.S. households, charging an annual subscription to its Web data starting at $50,000 year.
However, with Web advertisers becoming more insistent on data beyond what they're willing to pay for, many of these measurement and research companies are responding with efforts to publish at least some of their findings.
Media Metrix later this month will reinstate publishing top-line data on its Web site (www.
mediametrix.com). In February, it stopped listing the top 20 Web sites because some users were misinterpreting the data, said Doug McFarland, senior VP-general manager of Media Metrix.
The company will now publish statistics such as the top 10 most visited sites, the top news and information sites and "tidbits" of data from its online reports, Mr. McFarland said.
THAT'S MY DATA
Other established measurement and research companies are moving in this direction as well.
Web auditing company Internet Profiles Corp., San Francisco, has quietly been trying to get permission from its clients to publish audited information from their sites in a central location, such as on its Web site (www.ipro.com).
However, said Tim Reed, director of marketing and business development at I/PRO, reaction has been mixed.
"Half say, 'That's exactly what the industry needs to move ahead,' and the other half say, 'That's my data; we want to have control of it'," said Mr. Reed.
FREE INFORMATION ROOTS
The Internet's free information roots might be what's fueling the push for more published data, said Jan Horsfall, VP-marketing, Lycos. But he added, "If you look back at what package-goods services have done, it's amazing to me how much information [about the Web] is available."
This information, ranging from an online company's market share to site traffic, "exceeds what's available in package goods."
Meanwhile, new measurement and research companies are coming on the scene with new tools.
Startup @plan, Stamford, Conn., which launched in July with an advertising planning system based on a database of 40,000 Web users with partner Gallup Organization, said it will make certain data publicly available.
ABSOLUTE CRYING NEED FOR DATA
Currently, the company charges $65,000 annually for access to its real-time data, which lets media buyers compare demographic and other targeting information across major Web sites (www.webplan.net).
'There is an absolute crying need for third-party neutral information that will help advance this new medium," said Mark Wright, chairman-CEO of @plan.
Another newcomer to the Web research field is RelevantKnowledge, Atlanta, (www.relevant
knowledge.com), which will compete with Media Metrix and @plan to provide Web usage and demographic data based on a database of 5,000 users the company said is projectable to the entire Web universe.
RelevantKnowledge, which will debut its first round of data Sept. 15, charges $10,000 a year for individual site reports and $48,000 for broader Web reports. It plans to publish certain data regularly.
"The large package-goods companies are not going on the Web right now because there is no reliable standard [for measuring Web usage]," said Jeff Levy, co-founder and CEO of RelevantKnowledge.
HOW TO DICE THE DATA
"If we can give those people the tools to understand the Web, they will spend a lot more than $300 million or even $5 billion to chase 44.7 million individuals," said Mr. Levy, referring to the number of U.S. Web users RelevantKnowledge is projecting from its research.
Web buyers and sellers also want more comparative data in formats easier to use.
Yahoo!'s Ms. Edwards said she would like accessible, easily understandable data for her sales force.
James Desrosier, exec VP-marketing at Excite, said the answer is as simple as making your needs known to the researchers.
When Mr. Desrosier recently asked Media Metrix for a custom run, analyzing things like traffic between brands, he was amazed that no one had ever requested that before.
So traditional and new research companies are responding.
Market researcher NFO Research, Greenwich, Conn., recently partnered with technology company Transaction Information Systems New York, to provide clients with online market research based on a panel of 100,000 users.
NFO provides instant results on the Web (www.nfo.com), tracking Web usage and attitudes.
SELLING MADISON AVENUE
I/PRO and Nielsen Media Research launched a comparative report that groups Web sites into categories and plots how each site performs against the category.
Media Metrix, which currently collects Web usage data from members' PCs, is working to collect data over the Web and to provide overnight delivery of its findings to advertisers.
But daily traffic figures might not be necessary for monthly ad buys, said Rich LeFurgy, VP-advertising, marketing at Starwave, and chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau.
Mr. LeFurgy said that he thinks quarterly, moving to monthly, reports would be fine.
But syndicated data must be combined with standardized measurement guidelines to lure more advertising to the Web, he said. "Both are important in opening up the pocket books of Madison Avenue."