Smaller Sites: Stand and Be Counted

Media buyers in I/PRO Corp.’s ‘Agencies for Interactive Audits’ (A4IA) program have been encouraging sites to have their traffic audited. Now, they are putting over $125 million behind that recommendation.

The A4IA program, created in conjunction with print auditing mainstay BPA Worldwide, includes media buying representatives from about 25 agencies. About half are participating in the ‘Guaranteed RFP’ program this quarter, which promises access to over $125 million in open requests for proposals (RFPs) to sites that undergo an audit and fit their client’s needs.

“This is the first time agencies are putting a real powerful incentive behind getting better data,” said David Barlin, I/PRO’s VP marketing.

This arrangement solves the pain on both sides of media buying, according to Barlin. “The media buyers don’t have good data on these sites, and the sites don’t have access to the media buyers. This can give them both what they’re looking for,” he said.

The program introduces media buyers to audited sites in specific verticals they may not have found through other channels. This quarter, 12 agencies are participating in 7 verticals, including finance, health, technology, travel, dieting and women, both on the consumer and B2B sides. Agencies with active RFPs this quarter include Beyond Interactive, FCBi, J. Walter Thompson Technology, Lycos, and Universal McCann.

According to Barlin, commonly-used media planning data, such as Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore Media Metrix, usually only provide information on the top 50 sites. Costs on those sites have been steadily rising, and many marketers seek advertising opportunities on the thousands of other sites that are misrepresented in or excluded from panel-based research.

“There are 50,000 sites out there a media buyer might want to consider for a particular buy. Of course, that’s just too many to evaluate,” Barlin said. “Those that are coming to them with an audit give them something to look at to decide if it’s worth the time to investigate.”

In addition to smaller sites, other groups underrepresented in the existing tools are business-to-business and niche-content sites, according to Barlin.

“Many of the B2B sites that we evaluate and utilize are not measured by any third party source,” said Stacy Malone, interactive media director at Universal McCann. “What we need is accurate and trustworthy data about these sites so that we can confidently invest our ad dollars in them. A third-party audit will help deliver the information we need.”

“I/PRO and BPA are taking the necessary steps in order for agencies and advertisers to properly evaluate actual reach metrics against niche sites that fly under the radar of many planning tools and market research companies,” added Jason Burnham, president and media director of Mass Transit Interactive.

The BPA Interactive Audit by I/PRO takes original census-based data from a site, then filters out inconsistencies and factors that skew results, such as non-human traffic from robots or spiders; an unexplained spike in IP traffic, unknown user agents, or clicks recorded on non-existent pages.

“We have human reviewers going through everything, so when an advertiser looks at the final number, they know this is something they can count on.”

Once somebody has proven they have enough of an audience to be worth a media buyer’s time, the audit also gives the buyer data to qualify that site and learn what relationship the site has with its visitors. It shows things like how the audience is growing over time, whether people are coming back often, whether the site can reach light users to really help a reach campaign.

“It’s not just how many people go to the site, but where they go on the site, what channels they visit, how often they come back in a month, and what the distribution of that is,” Barlin said.

I/PRO has audited over 500 Web sites and over one trillion Web pages since it began offering its services in 1994. With the backing of BPA Worldwide, which has been conducting third-party print audits since 1931, the company hopes to leverage that brand and bring the same level of trust to its online audits, Barlin said.

“There are people out there who have been buying advertising for decades, and BPA has been out there even longer. A BPA interactive audit by I/PRO creates trust by giving them the data they expect, in the format they expect, from a name they trust,” he said. “We’ve got a solid and proven methodology, and a young and nascent, but very timely, position in the marketplace.”

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