Magazine article Editor & Publisher

ABC Explains New Move to Count Web Traffic -- and How It Is Measured

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

ABC Explains New Move to Count Web Traffic -- and How It Is Measured

Article excerpt

The Internet is arguably the most measurable medium in history. Numerous options abound for online newspaper publishers that seek to measure the health and viability of their Web sites. Not surprisingly, the wealth of choices also causes a lot of confusion about the underlying differences between the many forms of measurement.

On Nov. 5, ABC will release Audience-FAX, a new audience reporting initiative that for the first time will incorporate print and online readership as well as total Web site activity data on ABC reports. Of the nearly 200 newspapers participating in Audience-FAX, approximately 150 will report a total Web site activity number on their ABC statements.

Newspapers participating in Audience-FAX have the opportunity to choose the source of their Web site activity data. These sources are typically separated into two categories - panel-based measurements and server-based measurements. I'd like to explain the different methodologies the panel and server companies employ and the role of third-party auditing in providing independent verification for either method. Panel-Based Audience Measurement

The most recognized online panel-based audience measurement companies are Nielsen//NetRatings and comScore Inc. These companies gather a sample panel of Internet users and track each user's specific Internet usage habits. Typically, this includes installing a piece of software on the panelist's computer that tracks their activity when they are online. These companies then project the usage and habits of the entire U.S. Internet population based on the data gathered from its panelists. The size and diversity of the panel are essential to projecting statistically accurate numbers.

Server-Based Audience Measurement

There are numerous Web site analytics firms that provide useful measurements direct from a Web site's server or pages served from a Web site. Some of the recognized names in this area are companies like Omniture, Google Analytics, Visual Sciences and WebTrends.

These companies track your Web site's traffic activity using two common methods. The first method involves installing a Java script tag on the pages of your Web site. The code is programmed to send the traffic activity data back to the Web site analytics firm. The analytics firm then takes that data and produces a report for you. The second method allows you to upload the log files from your Web site to a software program that also produces a summary report.

The server-based measurement method tracks almost 100 percent of the traffic activity on your Web site and may include some misleading activity such as internal traffic, duplication and spiders and robots. While you can set up filters to remove some misleading activity, this requires constant maintenance and updating since new spiders and robots are created frequently.

Web sites using server-based measurements may also experience inflated traffic data due to user cookie deletion. Cookies are small text files stored on the user's computer that collect a variety of data that identifies the user. Some users delete cookies from their computers or reject cookies as part of their Web browser settings. What does this mean? Since cookies identify unique users, cookie deletion can cause the same PC user to be counted as multiple visitors therefore inflating the Web site's overall traffic activity. Cookie deletion inflation may be offset by users that reject cookies or multiple users accessing the same computer.

Pro and Con

These are some advantages and disadvantages to both forms of audience measurement. …

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