MIXX: Audience Counting Blues

Will Web measurement companies ever churn out audience data that can be easily compared? Don’t count on it.

Executives from comScore, the Nielsen Co., HitWise, and Omniture at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s MIXX conference said Monday they will continue to fine tune how they collect, track, and analyze Web site visitor data and pointed out differences in their methodologies.

Some said the newest frontier involves tracking crossover media consumption, that is, measuring the extent that people consume traditional media, such as television and then cross over to the Internet.

“The Internet is part of a broader media spend, but growing,” said John Mellor, Omniture’s senior vice president, business strategy and corporate strategy. “We’re trying to understand IP-connected devices, mobile distribution. Cable TV is increasingly digitally connected. It’s as measurable as the Internet is.”

How will advertisers know where to spend their money?

“Know how the Internet interplays with other media,” said Manish Bhatia, Nielsen Online’s president of global services and U.S. sales. Then, decide. For example, if consumers are turning to print, such as magazines and newspapers, in addition to the Internet, then they may want to cut TV spending.

To a large extent, each executive at the panel discussion, “Convergent Validity,” touted his respective company’s offerings.

Magid Abraham, comScore CEO, pointed out how his company uses audience panels to collect “effectiveness” metrics, not soley audience measurements. Dissing audience data collected from servers, he gave this example: If a person goes to a Web site, then deletes the cookies from that visit, she’s counted as a first-time visitor when she returns to the Web site, though she’s actually a return visitor.

Bhatia said Nielsen has acquired an assortment of companies that generate many Web measurement data points, thus providing opportunities to dig into the information for trends and other insights.

Bill Tancer, HitWise general manager of global research, said his firm provides online competitive intelligence. “If you do nothing but audience measurement, you’re doing yourself a disservice,” he said, adding that his firm collects demographic and other information that shows where Web site visitors are online, what category of sites they visit, how they are getting there, and what’s driving traffic to competitors.

Omniture’s Mellor said his company does not deal with audience panels. Instead, the company measures the visits and customer behavior on every single page of its customers’ Web sites, he said.

One challenge, participants said, some metrics are more important to some businesses than to others. “Definition of engagement is different to everyone in this room. Retailers boil it down to ROI (return on investment), to media companies it may be a function of page views, time spent on site, or repeat visitors.”

Stay tuned: discussion continues Nov. 29 at an IAB audience measurement summit.

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