Small site owners and media buyers really ought to see more of each other. New free site measurement firm Quantcast, hopes to bring them closer together.
A cozier partnership between agencies and niche Web properties could lessen marketers' reliance on ad networks, earn better ad rates for publishers, and maybe even improve results for advertisers. One barrier problem is the lack of good data about minor Web properties, owing largely to the big panel-based research firms' myopic focus on the big boys of digital content.
Quantcast, launched three months ago, aims to alleviate the problem by casting a much wider net than the panels do and offering site traffic and demographic data in a free, searchable interface. Since offering ratings and demographic data on more than 20 million Web sites, the service has won some early accolades from media planners.
"The fact that these guys have visibility on millions of sites is very helpful as we're examining targeting opportunities and long tail opportunities," said David Smith, CEO of integrated media agency mediasmith, which has worked with the tool extensively.
Quantcast's audience data combines panel-based research with anonymous user information provided by advertisers, publishers and ISPs; it's all available free via a public, searchable database on the company's site. A Quantified Publisher program lets site owners grab a piece of code and receive independent verification of their audience size, demographics and "siteographics," a metric representing other sites visited by the site's audience. Siteographic information includes both general categories, such as sports, and particular sites, like CNN.com -- potentially useful information for media planners looking for Web properties that share audience characteristics.
"By looking across all Internet usage and considering the audience of one site in respect of where else on the Internet they spend their time, you start to get unique insight into the...audience," said Konrad Feldman, Quantcast CEO. He called siteographics a useful way of getting a quick take on the character of a site's readers.
For media planners, Quantcast will also provide lists of Web sites that may be appropriate given a campaign's stated goals. In one instance, it supplied mediasmith with several hundred suggestions, which the agency was able to whittle down to 20 or so sites.
"They have helped us look at sites in the long tail specifically," said Smith. Smith noted the data is far from perfect, a fact Quantcast is not shy about. "The general rule is the larger the site, the more accurate the data, but there are always cases where the data is more or less accurate because of biases," said Quantcast's Feldman.
The company also recently added a sub-domain research tool. "Everybody thinks of the long tail and small sites, but big sites are the long tail in microcosm," Feldman said. "People who go to movies.yahoo.com are different by and large from the people who go to sports.yahoo.com."
Quantcast's ultimate goal is to provide directly verified data on a majority of sites, a census approach very different from the sampling model that has historically dominated media measurement. The company intends to keep that data free in an approach not unlike that of Amazon-owned Alexa.
"Many publishers can't afford research services," said Feldman. "That makes it very difficult for those sites to attract quality advertisers and makes it hard for advertisers to make the right ad buys. They're left with run-of-network buys on large sites."
Quantcast is cagey about its business model; for the moment it seems intent on demonstrating its analytics prowess and growing its mindshare among advertisers. Eventually it hopes to make money by "helping publishers and advertisers use this data and making it much easier for brand advertisers to conduct their business online."
To that end, the company may try to enable marketers to place media buys, though Feldman declined to specify whether it would directly represent site inventory or would simply point media buyers in the right direction. Additional future plans include a media planning tool marketers can use to research their site buys.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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