On Facebook, comScore, and Looking Beyond Standard Ad Metrics

facebook-logo.jpgAs a business reporter, I rely on the numbers people to help quantify anecdotal information and provide a sense of scope when it comes to things like site traffic, ad spending, the size of an industry or sector – that sorta thing. Companies like comScore, TNS, Hitwise, Jupiter, Borrell, Kelsey, and eMarketer (the list goes on and on) are the number people for the online ad industry.

But sometimes they’re just not measuring the appropriate thing for our purposes. This struck me while reading yesterday’s Wall Street Journal piece about Facebook’s engagement ads (introduced in beta in August), and more broadly, about the firm’s aim to grab more advertiser dollars.

“Facebook has a lot to prove with the new ad format, which it began quietly testing in August and started making available to all advertisers this month,” notes the story, which goes on to say Facebook’s “share of total number of U.S. online display ad views was just 1.1%, according to market research firm comScore Inc., in its most recent report in June.”

It also compares Facebook to its social networking adversary, MySpace, calling the Fox Interactive Media site “the market leader with 15.9% of display-ad spending, according to comScore.”

There are a couple of things that hit me when reading this. First of all was the comparison of “display ad views” to “display-ad spending.” Ad views are not at all equivalent with ad spending. Indeed, according to comScore, the 15.9 percent refers to ad views (read: impressions), not spending. ComScore doesn’t measure ad spending.

OK, that makes more sense.

But there’s a bigger question here. Is this display ad view metric really the most appropriate gauge for comparison? The June measure referred to in the story, for instance, doesn’t include engagement ads, according to comScore, which began tracking them in September.

That might not make for a huge difference in comparing Facebook’s and MySpace’s display ad views, but it’s worth noting. It also led me to wonder whether the future for ad impression measurement will need to account for an expanded set of ad formats, beyond standard units, in order to stay relevant.

For instance, Facebook told me — and comScore confirmed — that engagement ads featuring video like movie trailers are not tracked. The measurement firm does plan to track video ads in the future, though.

I’m not trying to say comScore is doing anything wrong here. Methodologies and systems for tracking Web ads are very involved; it’s no simple task to develop methods for tracking every new type of ad that comes on the market.

My goal here is simply to draw attention to the fact that standard display ad measures aren’t always the most appropriate gauge for how well a site is doing at selling ads.

Just a quick update: Though comScore hasn’t tracked ad spending in the past, the firm has begun the process, but has yet to unveil any ad spending data publicly.

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