Metric Partners That Count

In an industry where metrics are critical to profitability, accuracy is the pathway to success. But as I discussed in “The Trouble With Audience Metrics,” many buyers and planners are putting all their faith in sources that don’t provide a complete picture when viewed in isolation.

ComScore and Nielsen Online are essential to our business. They just aren’t the only audience measurement partners that count.

Publishers know this well. To ensure they have the most accurate depiction of their audience profile, traffic, behavior, and so on to offer advertisers, they employ a number of different measurement services. These often include tools like Omniture, Google Analytics, Alexa, and Quantcast.

Quantcast is widely known as a free “open Internet ratings service.” I love it for providing an overview of the ad formats a site can offer and for useful planning features like “Audience Also Likes.” Through its publisher profiles, Quantcast delivers traffic, geographic, demographic, and lifestyle data along with an overview of which businesses visit a site en masse (e.g., most major publishers will find their competitors on that list).

Not all such data can be offered for every site. Quantcast partners with publishers, advertisers, ad networks, and ISPs to gather the information and, like comScore and Nielsen, relies on consumer panel estimates to determine who’s going where online and what those users are like.

The picture becomes much clearer when publishers tag their pages and allow Quantcast to scan their sites. Throw in some “sophisticated statistical modeling techniques” (in essence comparing a publisher’s data to countless consumer profiles developed using millions of other sites), and you’ve got the complete site metrics that advertisers have been pining for. This is what differentiates Quantcast from other measurement services.

“We collect billions of actual media consumption events every day, which give us direct visibility to more than 200 million people online in the U.S. every month — more than 800 million globally,” said Adam Gerber, Quantcast’s chief marketing officer. “Panel services provide the industry with a good directional post-mortem based on samples, but they will never be in a position to enable real-time ad decisioning.”

As an interactive marketer, I hope that the ratio of quantified publishers to unquantified is rapidly on the rise. From the publisher’s perspective, the benefits of volunteering to be tagged are manifold. That automotive research site I mentioned last week is working with Quantcast to get a better handle on its audience, generate favorable third-party data that can be used to secure ad business and increase ad rates, and — perhaps most notably — ensure the traffic numbers that appear on Quantcast’s site aren’t shortchanging them.

Of course, there’s an issue with this type of direct-measured data that we’re all too familiar with: cookie deletion. This behavior makes it difficult to ensure that traffic numbers, like unique visits, are completely accurate.

Quantcast addressed this last summer by introducing “Cookie Corrected Audience Data” which it explains in detail in an accompanying white paper. In short, this is achieved by combining publisher-provided census-level data with panel sources to create a statistical model that analyzes, among other things, the likelihood of cookie deletion and multiple machine use and adjusts audience data accordingly.

For now, Quantcast’s service is free to advertisers and publishers (one has to assume its business model is still evolving). There’s no reason for planners not to use it. It could fill in some of the blanks we notice when exclusively employing panel-based measurement services. It allows us to vet that data against another source for a more accurate outcome, and provides priceless publisher information that hasn’t been readily available in the past.

Audience measurement is bound to experience massive growth in the coming months and years, with new services emerging and old ones regenerating in accordance with industry demand. The better the tools available to us, the better we can do our jobs. We just need to make sure that we know those tools inside and out.

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