A serious attempt to standardize online advertising

One of the biggest frustrations our clients face is trying to establish reliable measurements from which they can “sell” their websites. This isn’t a recent thing, as anybody familiar with the web would know. The best source of a site’s traffic ought to be its own log files, but third-party measurement companies — such as Nielsen NetRatings and comScore — provide other statistics to ad agencies and advertisers.

And just last week, they announced an imminent end to the page view as an ad metric.

According to a report from Online Media Daily, the Interactive Advertising Bureau is now asking that these companies submit to a third-party audit of their methodologies, so that standards can be set and maintained.

Although the IAB has spent years pushing the two major Web audience measurement services, an audit by the independent Media Rating Council is more likely now because there’s a sense of urgency and greater industry support, said Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of IAB since January. The issue of bad metrics, he said, was the resounding issue that IAB members named when he assumed the job.

“The IAB and the MRC have been asking for this since 1999 and they haven’t even established a timetable,” said Rothenberg, alluding to the measurement firms. “Tensions are running high as the Internet becomes the center of all marketing.”

While the “secret sauce” of these companies isn’t completely known, we do know that part of their data comes from the various ad networks that serve ads on sites. There will always be conflict between the data provided by these companies and the log files of sites, because the ad servers have no way of determining how many ads are on pages where those ads are displayed. That means it’s impossible to reliably determine traffic.

Moreover, as we reported last week in the page view story, advertiser cookies are the cookies most removed by web users, so statistics based on them simply cannot be trusted.

This whole thing, though, is an attempt by the advertising industry to create a replacement for the mass marketing world that’s crumbling, and it’s going to be interesting to watch. Like the algorithms that run the search engines, these sorts of technologies can be gamed, and it’s hard to imagine a set of online “standards” resistant to mischief, much less reliable across-the-board.

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