Media planners, online and off-, base their decisions in large part on data. Online planners have the luxury -- or curse -- of lots of data and many ways to slice it. Data reporting tools help. Some of these tools are free, some come with limited free access, and others have price tags associated with them. Here are the main players (listed in alpha order so as not to discriminate) and other resources out there, so you can look before you leap.
Alexa. Around since 1996 and acquired by Amazon in 1999, Alexa draws from aggregated user data collected from its downloaded toolbar to rank and provide information about Web sites. The information tends to be skewed by marketers and sly Web site publishers using the toolbar to try to elevate their own sites' Alexa rankings. So don't rely solely on Alexa data.
Compete. Calling itself "a new breed of Web analytics," Compete uses a panel of more than 2 million U.S. Internet users. The users allow Compete to track and analyze the Web pages they visit and are asked to respond to surveys about their surfing behavior. Although positioned as a search marketing tool, Compete allows the media planner to compare up to five sites to see traffic levels at three-month intervals, which we've found to be very useful:
ComScore. ComScore offers a broad suite of analysis solutions:
Ad Metrix: Get competitive intelligence for tracking display advertising.
Behavioral Targeting: Define key audiences through insights into online behavior.
Brand Metrix: Measures a campaign's lift in awareness and retention.
comScore Marketer and qSearch: Analyze paid and organic search, and global consumer search behavior, respectively.
Extended Web Metrix: Measure the entire extended Web landscape, including widgets, applications, and other platforms that deliver content.
Media Metrix: Measure audience composition and performance within key user segments.
MobiLens: Connect data on mobile consumer behavior, content merchandising, and device capabilities.
Plan Metrix: Access a database of Internet users' site visits and detailed survey information on users' lifestyles, interests, attitudes, and product preferences.
Video Metrix: Measure online video.
Hitwise. Hitwise employs network-centric methodology, whereby it collects anonymous data directly from ISP networks to measure how, when, and where people surf. Hitwise then presents its analyzed data in several useful contexts, including clickstream data, which helps advertisers understand their audiences and competitors.
Nielsen Online. Nielsen breaks its solutions down into two primary offerings: BuzzMetrics Services and Online Measurement Services. BuzzMetrics measures consumer-generated (word-of-mouth) media, while Online Measurement is a product suite with an offering similar to comScore's. Noteworthy differentiators include:
AdRelevance: A system that mimics actual Internet population usage by automatically adjusting itself to traffic patterns.
Homescan Online: A product that links consumers' online behavior with offline consumer goods purchasing activity.
Reach and Frequency: Tools that help identify target-appropriate Web sites, build media schedules, and optimization and frequency distribution analysis.
Quantcast. Blending multiple formats of data analysis so as not to rely on any one type that might amplify the bias, Quantcast couples machine learning with directly measured data and a variety of sample-based reference points. It delivers its audience data in real time and for all forms of digital media.
TNS Media Intelligence. The service tracks and collects multimedia advertising intelligence, including online, specific to advertising spending and occurrence data, as well as select creative executions.
Ad networks and large publishers. With so much on the line in terms of attracting ad dollars, many ad networks and large publishers conduct independent research. The wise media planner will obtain this information before allocating ad dollars here.
Search. Ordinary searches can yield a good deal of information about the kinds of sites the consumer might find as well as about the competition. In addition, search planning tools can also yield useful information.
Top lists. Popular media publishers typically compile top lists of sites and networks that are gaining attention from the industry and why.
We media planners have plenty of data reporting tools at our disposal, some serving different needs under different circumstances. Check them out; they should help you do your job better.
Addendum: I have been contracted to write a book about Twitter marketing and it's scheduled to publish in mid-fall. Please sign up at "HollisTwitterArmy" on Twibes if you would like to assist, and I'll be in touch.
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A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."