OPINION10 June 2009

Making online measurement count


A survey last month by the Measurement of Interactive Audience Project found that less than a quarter of advertisers, ad agencies and media publishers were satisfied with the consistency of online audience measurement metrics. Stewart Atkins, director of digital at Communique360, says it’s time to raise the game.

But while it seems that everything is indeed measurable the question is: can everything be measured accurately and how reliable are the results?

Over the past six months or so we have run a number of targeted blind-banner network campaigns for a range of clients. Clients bought into these campaigns very much on the basis of the ROI models presented. Typically there was a spreadsheet or table nestled in the middle of that all-important pitch document which took the agreed budget and set out the number of impressions to be served (based on the ad serving network’s CPM), an estimated CTR (click through rate) based on current industry insight and the percentage forecast for conversion. So the key metrics in the model are impressions, clicks and conversions.

However, it is openly acknowledged that measurement discrepancies can occur with each of these. According to a Mediaplex Discrepancies white paper, impression discrepancies are the most common form and differences of up to 10% are considered acceptable. The white paper goes on to describe a number of scenarios for each case of impressions, clicks and conversions where discrepancies typically occur and what steps might be taken to reduce the likelihood of their happening. Aside from the obvious things such as tags not being entered correctly, there are a number of arcane factors such as the impact of caching, robots and spiders, browser settings (images switched off or ads blocked, for example), time shift (discrepancies due to systems in different time zones) and drop-off (users moving on before a page has fully loaded).

In considering the measurement of a campaign it isn’t simply a matter of placing a number of image tracking tags (pixels) on the user journey from banner via landing page to conversion – i.e. completing a transaction, registration or other measurable goal. Chances are that, as with our experience with each campaign, there will be some discrepancy that necessitates a lot of discussion between the ad serving network, the independent third-party tracking agency and marketing agency to come to some understanding as to why there is rarely any consistency between the different figures being reported. It’s hard enough for us to understand, but it can prove embarrassing trying to explain to a client why there are such inconsistencies or why there is little correlation between the campaign tracking figures reported and those the client is seeing from their own web analytics. Worse, it makes it harder to get the next budget signed off if they can’t trust the figures and your carefully constructed ROI model falls apart.

Anyone proposing or developing a campaign needs to be aware of what the likely issues are going to be and take the advice of industry experts to mitigate those risks. The industry as a whole needs to continue to invest in making measurement more accurate and transparent. It is always worth keeping up to date on the latest developments via the likes of the IAB and I-COM both of which can be followed on Twitter (http://twitter.com/iab and http://twitter.com/icomglobal).