Jupiter Looks to Topple Traffic-Tracking Leaders

Web research player Jupiter Media Metrix is aiming to make a name for itself amid established players in server-side audience measurement, in a bid to fashion itself as the dominant provider of data to the online publishing industry.

Through its Media Metrix division, New York-based Jupiter already offers sample-based profiling of sites’ traffic — producing demographic breakdowns and approximations of monthly unique visitors. But now, the company will offer a more accurate service that tracks how visitors interact with a site, via a strategic partnership with Purchase, N.Y.-based LiveTechnology.

Through the two companies’ agreement, LiveTechnology’s ASP-based product, LiveStat, will be rebranded and resold by Jupiter under the product name Site Measurement. The service offers detailed information to Web publishers and e-businesses about their visitors’ activities by embedding Javascript code into Web pages, which notes whenever the page is loaded.

Ostensibly, the result is similar to competing offerings from players like WebSideStory and NetIQ’s WebTrends, which use differing methods, including examining Web sites’ server logs, to track user activity.

As a result of those differences, Jupiter maintains that its offering is more accurate than the competition since it says Site Measurement can better detect and account for Web caching — when pages are stored locally on users’ hard drives or on proxy servers. (Competing services already offer similar services, with varying degrees of accuracy.)

At any rate, despite the wide availability of services like WebTrends and WebSideStory — as well as auditing from groups like the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ ABCi unit — caching and similar measurement problem still represent sizable headaches for Web publishers, who are under pressure to deliver the sizes and types of audiences demanded by advertisers.

For instance, according ABCi, caching and Web spider activity can cause logfile figures to be as much as 30 percent off, if publishers aren’t using one of the major analysis or auditing services. (Jupiter, similarly, reports that caching can underreport site hits by as much as 45 percent.)

Also looming over the Web publishing industry is the prickly problem of ad-serving discrepancies. Owing largely to differences in technology and accounting methodology, third-party ad servers and publishers’ own servers often report sizable differences in impressions delivered during a campaign. It’s become so much of an endemic problem that industry associations like the Advertising Research Foundation and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have each established panels to hammer out solutions and standards, and have both brought in groups like ABCi to help.

While such problems continue to vex publishers and advertisers, to Jupiter, the issues represent a sizable market opportunity.

“Site Measurement is the first consistent, accurate and timely Web traffic analysis service for an industry which, to date, has relied on a variety of inconsistent and inaccurate internal Web site traffic gauges,” said Seth Segel, a senior vice president at the firm. “We are well-positioned to provide any Web site in business today an unparalleled, objective third-party service for tracking a much higher level of Web traffic detail and the only service to measure 100 percent Web browser caching.”

While Site Measurement may help to quell some of the issues surrounding Web measurement, Jupiter’s newest offering also could prove a needed tonic for the firm itself, hard-hit by the collapse of dot-com clients, and traditional firms’ reductions in spending.

In the offline world, publishers often turn to multiple vendors or auditors for audience research and circulation data. But now Jupiter, already practiced in the cross-selling of its research and analyst businesses, now effectively becomes a one-stop data shop, and one of the few sources for both circulation analysis and panel-based audience research for the Web.

“We find the acquisition of LiveStat by [Jupiter] to be interesting,” said ABCi chief technical officer Dick Bennett. “As we have said all along, there should be a way of anchoring research figures to something more solid, like log file measured data.”

Added Segel, “We aim to set the standard by leveraging LiveTechnology’s advanced proprietary technology together with Jupiter Media Metrix’ existing leadership and resources in Internet measurement.”

Yet while the company’s new abilities could prove a windfall, the new offering does revive a number of issues that Jupiter will have to address.

For one, concerns have lingered for years regarding the accuracy of the figures provided by Media Metrix and other panel-based researchers, with many Web publishers — particularly those of vertical or regionally-focused sites — complaining about gross underreporting by the firms.

Now, unless Jupiter can ensure that its Media Metrix traffic numbers correspond with data from Site Measurement, the firm will have to answer some embarrassing questions about the veracity of its panel methodology, potentially harming its ability to bundle both services together.

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