According to Business Week, the dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is that no one knows exactly who is going where on the Web.
The article, titled Web Numbers: What’s Real?, exposes some of the deficiencies in the business of measuring online traffic. Measurement methodologies haven’t kept pace with developments such as the exponential growth of widgets and asynchronous web pages.
Here’s the gist of the piece:
Rather than simply relying on a Web site’s traffic reports, advertisers traditionally compared that data with information from Nielsen//NetRatings Inc. and comScore, independent services that recruit Web surfers to record their mouse clicks. Those outfits argue that there are many reasons not to just count the clicks off a Web site’s server logs. For instance, comScore points out that servers would count pop-up ads as a page view if the tracking service didn’t filter them out.
Independent traffic analysis becomes more important as bigger chunks of advertising flow online and the threat of “click fraud,” which inflates ad bills, grows bigger. No wonder that a host of newer services, such as Alexa and Hitwise, are highlighting the weaknesses of the older traffic-measuring companies and are muscling onto the scene with alternatives. By providing some free traffic data via their Web sites, these outfits make it easier for anyone to publish an estimate. But they also have their own blind spots and are making side-by-side comparisons vastly more confusing.
To see why there’s an opening for new ways of measuring traffic, look at what has happened to the old standard for gauging online growth, the page view. As the Internet evolved during the 1990s, advertisers came to rely on the number of pages a site served up each month as their most reliable metric. With the rise of new programming and distribution technologies, however, page views suddenly look less relevant. For instance, the beauty of a site such as Meebo is that it is built with software tools called Ajax, which speed up Web surfing. When you log onto Meebo, instead of loading a new page for every mouse click, only the log-in section is loaded. But no matter how long people stay on Meebo, they’re technically viewing only one page.