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The World Wide Web is a seductive medium, enabling marketers and media to develop targeted offerings that have the potential to strengthen brand awareness, increase customer loyalty and create new connections with consumers.

There's just one problem: Without good research tools, Web site owners have no way of knowing who they're reaching.

This is a problem that many entities today are working to solve. Learning how many people visit a Web site in a given time period, where they go and how long they stay is immensely valuable information that will enable marketers and media to tailor their sites to meet their users' needs.

Measuring traffic on the Web will also help solidify the emerging Web advertising medium, where marketers buy ad space on Web sites to point computer users to other sites.

Advertisers and ad agencies have been through these research growing pains before with virtually every ad medium in use today. So it is crucial-and just good common sense-that measurement tools for the Web be developed hand-in-hand with the ad industry. Last week's Advertising Research Foundation Interactive Media Research Summit sent a strong signal that the industry wants, and expects, to play a role in setting the standards.

But more is needed. Many Web sites inflate their traffic statistics, making the sites seem more popular than they are. Some do it even though they know better; most, however, don't understand what the numbers mean.

The industry is developing an auditing process to verify Web statistics. But until it's in place, those who are providing inaccurate information, knowingly or not, should be held accountable.

The ad industry should beware of falling into the trap of treating Web research as if it were just like TV or print. It shouldn't think of the Web user as a member of an "audience." That's a term that connotes facelessness and namelessness rather than unique individuals. A Web site's success should be judged not only on the mass quantity of bodies it attracts but also on its ability to keep them clicking away.

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