Will There Finally Be A Web Measurement Standard?

Despite the continuing growth of Web advertising, the dirty little secret of the industry is that the manner in which Web results are measured is far from standardized. In fact, it varies widely from one source to another. Since numbers between two analytics systems will rarely, if ever, produce an exact match, industry professionals are often times forced into a bit of guesswork  looking for trends in the data and ignoring anomalies that are not statistically relevant.

Dave Morgan, founder of media marketing company Simulmedia, tells Mediaweek, “When you see a different number on the ad server and a different number on a log-based server, you don’t have confidence…” Chris Hiland, president of media networks at IPG-owned Geomentum, adds, “The limitations and the confusion are very disruptive to our conversation with the client.”

Morgan and Hiland are referring to the fact that Web measurement criteria aren’t reported by websites in a consistent way. “The lack of standardization has undermined advertisers’ confidence in the Web, discouraged them from spending more online and depressed ad rates,” writes Lucia Moses of Mediaweek.

That’s why, Moses says, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) is looking to make its largest impact yet on the measurement world – by working towards a “gold standard” for Web measurement. Moses reports that while the IAB will first deal with online media, it has a broader mission – to attempt to standardize the way advertising is measured across all media platforms. Good luck.

IAB has already worked towards standardization by issuing voluntary guidelines two years ago. Those guidelines were meant to get Website owners to agree to definitions like “unique users” and establish acceptable standards for audience measurement. Apparently, however, voluntary means just that – and that’s why a lack of standards still exists.

One of the challenges is simply the fact that there are numerous measurement companies that analyze online data. These companies “have their own proprietary ways of doing things, and there will be some levels of resistance,” says Dave Morgan. Nonetheless, some of the companies are supportive of the IAB’s effort. John Burbank, CEO of Nielsen Online, one of the leading measurement firms, tells Mediaweek he supports standardization because it is essential “if brand advertisers are to move more dollars online.”

There is some urgency to the IAB’s desire for standardization. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, online privacy concerns are being raised both in the United States and Europe. While standardization isn’t a solution to the larger privacy issue, it is one way to help head off government regulation, because it demonstrates that the industry as a whole is moving in the right direction.

The IAB has a big job ahead of it. Standardization of Web measurement has been a long time coming, and it’s important that it happens sooner rather than later. If advertisers are to have a sense of confidence that they are getting what they are paying for – and the results are being measured using commonly accepted metrics – then everyone will benefit.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

3 Responses to Will There Finally Be A Web Measurement Standard?

  1. andrew wee says:

    @Barry – It's great that you've raised this issue. I've seen a number of big brands uses multiple analytics packages on their sites and depending on the skew of the stats, choose to report that they're tops as reported by Hitwise or Nielsen. And depending on where they rate higher, they might choose to say they are tops in impressions or unique visitors or time on sites. This is especially prevalent for media publishing entities like online-only newspapers/magazines and online+offline newspapers.

    For someone buying the media, it can be pretty schizophrenic to gauge how 1.5 million uniques last month, correlates to 12 million "hits" the previous month. Unless there's some level of standardization and consistency, it just feels like the PR manager or whomever is drafting the media kit is playing a huge prank on the rest of us.

  2. Barry Silverstein says:

    Thanks for your take on this Andrew. You are exactly right from a media perspective. It is the same type of game print media people used to play by manipulating such statistics as paid circulation, unpaid distribution, pass-along readership, etc. "Reach" is very different from "audience." Standards will help reduce the PR factor, as you point out.

  3. […] was last July that I wrote about the IAB’s interest in creating a standardized way of measuring online media, part of a broader […]