Are we being in the dark by Internet advertising measurement methods? While efforts are made to find effective solutions, exclusive research throws new light on what works and what does not.
The Internet has been hailed as the perfect marketing tool. It has the impact of advertising, the targeting advantages of direct mail and its effects are measurable - or at least that's what we've been led to believe.
As the medium matures, more and more examples are emerging of how early statistics and predictions have been over-hyped. According to the latest report from the National Computing Centre, 'A Survey of Internet Surveys', the combination of hype and built-in uncertainty has ensured that anything we know about the Internet how big it is, how fast it's growing, who uses it, or what it is used for- is most probably wrong.
"The ways in which the Internet has been measured in the past are becoming subject to criticism and revision, even by those organisations which have always been regarded as authoritative by the Internet community," says the report's author, Gary Herman.
The report questions estimates on the number of people using the Net, as well as their response to online advertising campaigns, measured by hits, impressions and click-throughs.
Hits, once presented as verifiable audience measurement, are now widely viewed as inaccurate. A hit is when a Web server has attempted to open a file; but a file means any piece of text or graphics. Therefore, to transform a 100,000-hit site to a million-hit site, you simply add ten more pictures.
Impressions, one of the most common measurements at the moment, can also be unreliable. This is the number of viewers of a particular Web page. However, there are sometimes errors in opening files which go undetected in measurement figures.
Much confusion still surrounds click-throughs. This is when a visitor clicks on an ad and is then taken through to the advertiser's Web site for more details. The metric simply tells you who found your ad interesting enough to click on to it, however, and not whether they found your site relevant once they got there.
So what is the industry doing to overcome these problems?
The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has been working for some time to establish a common set of rules for Internet advertising internationally. This has gained momentum since it joined forces with the leading industry associations.
The Digital Marketing Group (DMG), the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) have linked up to try to create a common language, recognising that publishers all provide different types of reports, in different formats, making comparisons impossible.
Andrew Walmsley, head of digital media at Bartie Bogle Hegarty and the DMG's chairman, says: "The standards will bring a degree of certainty to an industry which has been characterised by poor research, and allow Internet advertising to be calculated in the same way internationally. It will be a level playing field in terms of measurement."
The standards will create a set of benchmarks which will be applied to Web sites across the world. Charlie Dobres, general secretary at the IAB, says: "It has taken us months and months to agree on standards because it requires global co-ordination. Once the standards are implemented it will have a major impression on what people buy and sell on the Internet, which will allow the industry to mature."
Once the standards are finalised a new joint industry committee will be set up between the lAB and DMG.
Quality not quantity
Yet this will not make the Internet immediately more accountable to marketers. While volume figures are important, value is much more so- a point which many marketers seem to have overlooked.
Web site visitor recorders and Web server statistics, even when accurate, give no indication of the quality of a click or hit. …