Audience Measurement: Five Media Factors to Consider

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently released its audience reach measurement guidelines, which are open for public comment until January 20, 2009. The 35-page document provides the basis for a common methodology to assess online media.

At the core, these IAB guidelines focus on the reach and frequency factors most important to advertisers when assessing media options:

  • Unique user or visitor. “An identified and unduplicated individual Internet user who accesses Internet content or advertising during a measurement period.”
  • Visit (sometimes called a session). “A single continuous set of activity attributable to a cookied browser or users (if registration-based or a panel participant) resulting in one or more pulled text and/or graphics downloads from a site.”
  • Time spent. “The amount of elapsed time from the initiation of a visit to the last audience activity associated with that visit.”

These guidelines may cause online media entities concern in terms of the expense to change their internal tracking and the potential impact on sales. Dick Bennett, CEO and cofounder of Interactive Media Services Group, thinks that adhering to the guidelines is important for publishers since they need to know how their media entity is performing, they need consistent tools to pitch agencies and marketers with, and they need a means to reduce the inaccuracies between the rating companies’ results and their own.

Five Other Audience-Related Factors

While these measurements enable advertisers to compare media options based on the level of human interaction with publishers’ content, further information and analysis are needed to make an effective media choice. Consider these five major categories of metrics, which aren’t part of the IAB’s proposed guidelines:

  • Content varies across a number of dimensions. Assess each media entity in terms of the following factors:
    • Subject matter attracts different audiences based on interest. For some products, more specialized, niche content is critical for targeting an appropriate audience. Wall Street Journal Digital Network’s director audience analytics and insights Kate Downey points out that for some advertisers this goes deeper. She says, “They want their ads to be adjacent to select types of content such as small business.”
    • Information scarcity considers how available the content is and affects readers’ publishing options and willingness to pay for information. For example, specialized stock trading data versus Yahoo Answers.
    • Editorial quality relates to who writes the content — professional writers, experts, or users — as well as the editorial approach.
    • Information format and integration consider how the advertising is formatted (e.g., text, video, or audio) and how it appears or is combined with editorial content. This can influence the level and type of user engagement.

  • Audience attributes are a significant factor in determining media value, particularly where audience targeting is desired:
    • Demographic traits describe population characteristics, such as readers’ geographic location, income level, education, age, and race.
    • Psychographic characteristics relate to readers’ interests and needs. For some advertisers, these factors can override other attributes since the content may be focused on information that resonates with the reader.

  • Behavioral traits relate to user activity and interactions:
    • Source of traffic relates to how readers got to the publisher’s site.
    • Other content consumption can give insights into a user’s interests based on where the reader has been on the publisher’s site or elsewhere using behavioral targeting.

  • Dayparting, a term borrowed from television, refers to the time of day when content is viewed. Depending on the media site, the type of audience may vary based on the day or time. For many publishers, lunchtime is a major usage period.
  • Site reputation relates to content quality and how the media entity is perceived in the market place. Audience trust in a publishing site is an important aspect of a media brand. Depending on the product being advertised, this can be a factor in terms of brand association with the media site.

While all traffic isn’t created equal, it’s important to understand the attributes that matter most to attracting prospects who will convert most cost-effectively to buyers.

Three Bottom-Line Measures

From an advertiser’s perspective, audience measurements are assessed based on the financial results they deliver. Here are the three significant metrics:

  • CPM (define) is the cost of the media, which enables advertisers to compare different publishing options.
  • Conversion rate is a direct-response-oriented measure. It tracks how well traffic from a specific media site is converted to customers and may involved intermediate indicators. For advertisers focused on branding, other factors may be important to measure.
  • CPA (define) is the cost to acquire a customer, which includes the media costs as well as the post-advertising expenses to convert the prospect to a buyer.

Depending on your advertising goals, additional, more sophisticated analysis may be important to understanding the media impact.

As online advertising continues to mature, more standardized metrics will evolve, enabling advertisers and publishers to assess more than reach and frequency factors. This will allow online advertising to become more accepted relative to older media formats like television and print.

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