Who’s Counting? Ratings Data is Beginning to Stream In

Internet.com (Dec. 26, 2000)

Television has the Nielsen’s. Radio has the Arbitron’s. The Internet has — well, what exactly is the Web equivalent of the broadcast ratings systems?

Online, too, these two research firms have been the bellwethers of the net economy. Nielsen releases weekly rankings for the top 25 sites with the most traffic, the top 10 advertisers, and provides lists of the top ten ad banners viewed at work and at home. Arbitron keeps an eye on the numbers for streaming radio stations. Another major player in Web rankings is Jupiter’s Media Metrix, which cranks out a monthly list of the top 50 web sites and, like the others, provides specialized data to its clients.

But in recent months, several new firms have emerged to challenge — or supplement — the franchise of these ratings giants.

The newest is netScore, a product that goes live in January.

“We will capture every site visited, every page seen and every product purchase for every one of our 1.3 million-plus active members,” says Magid Abraham, president and CEO of comScore Networks.

The system allows advertisers to slice and dice the Internet audience on more than 10,000 sites in a number of different ways, tracking, for example, users at home, at school, at the office. The company claims metrics will include the number of unique visitors, percent reach, average number of page hits and average length of a session.

Other demographics, including age, size of household, income and education will be captured for about 1,000 sites.

It is the lack of such demographic details that agency executives say have largely kept away traditional brick and mortar advertisers.

“We definitely know what computer is displaying which ad, but what we’re lacking to a certain extent is being able to track actual demographics,” says 24/7 Media CEO David Moore. “Only when we get that will we able to compare apples and apples when talking to advertisers used to traditional media tracking.”

A company called Word of Net rates websites not on the basis of traffic, but on their overall visibility on the Net.

“Instead of focusing on advertising, we’re looking at some of the other traffic drivers,” explains the company’s founder, Allan Rentz. “Traffic is fine for what it does — provides a benchmark for rates — but the trouble with traffic numbers is that there’s no actionable aspect to them.”

In other words, while traffic figures talk to the advertisers, Word of Net’s data helps the site itself understand how it is getting that traffic in the first place and what it can do to improve its positioning.

Much of that is done through a detailed analysis of search engines, which an Anderson Consulting study recently found drive far more traffic than advertising.

“We track all the points of presence the web site maintains on the Web and that the customer can use to find it,” says Rentz.

At its most basic, the company’s Visibility Index tells sites where they stand versus the competition. A tool on Wordofnet.com allows visitors to do a simple search to establish their site’s overall ranking. A search for Internet.com, for example, gave it a “visibility score” of 413, a figure about double the “average visibility”, putting it in the middle of nine comparable “news & media” sites, with cnn.com at a high of 754. Actual paying clients receive detailed information on who shows up on keyword searches, in which directories they and up to 50 competitors are included, and lists of potential partners and new competitors.

“People use us as a compliment to traffic numbers and as a justification for online expenditures,” says Rentz.

But can’t anyone access such information simply by logging on to the search engines?

“You could sit at a computer for hours and bounce every key word you can think of off the search engines and you wouldn’t begin to cover the territory we do,” Rentz claims.

All of these sites cover the Internet universe. But another firm is trying to carve out a spot in the niche dominated until now by Arbitron.

Launched in August, Measurecast, Inc. recently issued its first weekly tracking numbers for web broadcasters. The company claims to be the only third-party firm providing audience measurement demographics within 24 hours.

“There are other service providers that process some data as to how many people are listening,” says Measurecast CEO Ed Hardy, referring to Web broadcasters themselves. “But having a provider offer its own data is like the fox watching the hen house.”

The company expects to have a panel of 50,000 opt-in streamies within the next few weeks, with plans to double that in 2001.

“We will be able to track any kind of listening — cars, radios, cell phones,” Hardy says. “As long as it’s fed over a streaming server, we’ll be able to track it.”

Since advertisers are using the information to compare streaming Web buys versus traditional radio, Measurecast’s reports are in much the same format as broadcast ratings, though still not as detailed. That doesn’t seem to matter.

“People are so hungry for data on streaming,” says Hardy, “that it’s exciting for them to get anything they can get their teeth into.”

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