Niche sites to lose under new online advertising measure

Websites with niche appeal or smaller audiences could drop off the radar under a new standard methodology for measuring online advertising currently being considered.

A cross-industry committee established by the Interactive Advertising Bureau Australia, which represents mainly big online content providers such as Fairfax Digital and News Ltd, yesterday announced that it believes a panel-based methodology should become the industry standard for measuring online audiences.

A panel-based system will measure online audiences on a similar basis to that currently used to measure television audiences. Online metric companies will assemble panels of many thousands of internet users that are representative of the wider population and download software on their computers that records which websites they visit.

Metrics companies will then extrapolate the data they get from the software on the panel members’ computers to come up with monthly audience figures for particular websites.

But while this method is preferred by big web publishers and advertisers, because it provides more accurate information about visitor numbers, it tends to under-represent the audiences of websites with smaller, more specialised audiences.

The head of the committee that has opted for the panel-based methodology, Stuart Pike, acknowledges that the main alternative, a tagging based methodology that works by downloading cookies on to the computers of website visitors, will disadvantage smaller websites.

“Any site that is a niche player – probably attracting less than 50,000 visitors a month – while the panel will pick that up, you can’t put a lot of faith in the numbers,” Pike says. “We expect that they’ll use a tagging methodology for those smaller sites and ad agencies will be expecting that in terms of data.”

Pike says the committee rejected computer tagging because website visitors can delete the cookies from their computer that the system relies on, resulting in unrealistically high visitor numbers.

John Butterworth, the head of the Australian Interactive Media Association that represents online content producers of all sizes, says the committee’s decision to opt for panel-based measurement should be seen as a rejection of tag-based measures.

“Panels are all about advertising, and I wholly endorse that, but on the site tagging side there is a huge chunk of the industry that has no interest in ads that want accurate visitor information, and tagging will continue to be good for them.”

Pike says he expects online metrics firms to come back to his committee with proposals as to how they will run panel-based online measures by Christmas this year. The committee will then accredit firms that meet the correct measurement standards.


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