January 31, 2008, 12:00 AM

Ad Money

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One issue Internet measurement firms are trying to reconcile is server-based data approaches-which use software to automatically track consumer Internet traffic-with surveys that ask consumer panels how they use the web. “Data our clients are getting from their own web logs or server data tends to overstate traffic 30% to 50%,” Nielsen’s Bhatia says. One way Nielsen is dealing with this situation is by tagging its clients’ sites with tracking software, then automatically refreshing web pages every few seconds to capture traffic data, and combining results with data from panel surveys.

Nielsen Online also has expanded the scope of data it collects from meters placed on the personal computers of participants in consumer panels. Instead of tracking only when panel members turn web browsers on or off, it now tracks all personal computer activity to reveal whether a panel member is actually on the web when her browser is open or perhaps working in a Word document.

Nielsen also now is tracking time spent activating online videos as well as online games, including exposure to any ads within video or game content, Bhatia says.

ComScore, meanwhile, also is expanding its services while continuing to work on innovations, Lipsman says. The company’s new Ad Metrix Publisher service, launched last fall, shows where online display ads are viewed across the Internet and demographic characteristics of consumers who view them.

“We’ll see more innovation this year,” Lipsman says. Among the targets are widgets, tiny software applications that entice consumers to visit a particular web site. “We’re expanding our definition of widgets and including more of them in response measurement,” Lipsman says.

Nielsen Online and comScore’s primary clients are large marketers who have the staffs to manage their high volume of data and can afford their fees. The cost to use Nielsen Online, for example, starts out at about $25,000 a year but averages from $50,000 to $100,000 a year for most clients, Bahtia says.

Marketing alternatives

But marketers have alternatives. Compete Inc., for example, which works with a panel of 2 million U.S. consumers, offers some of its information for free. Hitwise provides Internet traffic data gathered from Internet service providers on a base of 10 million U.S. Internet users and more than 1 million web sites, enabling online retailers to compare visitor volume across sites in a given market.

And while Nielsen Online monitors public comments on brands across blogs and Internet message boards through the BuzzMetrics service it acquired last year, it faces competition from a new player in the market, BuzzLogic, which shows marketers the extent of influence bloggers have in particular markets and product areas. By showing the links between multiple blogs, BuzzLogic shows which bloggers are tied into networks of discussions on products a retailer might want to advertise.

At firstStreet, which has limited resources for analyzing marketing data, Yonts relies on relatively small sets of data from Quantcast and Alexa to view Internet traffic, compare how firstStreet’s web sites are garnering post-marketing traffic compared with other sites, and view how well firstStreet is attracting its targeted demographic groups.

But Yonts says he looks forward to having a broader marketing staff capable of handling the large volume of data available from firms like Nielsen and comScore.

“Nielsen and Comcast provide a more holistic approach to gathering consumer data,” Yonts says. “Moving forward that will be even more significant because of online video, consumer generated content, mobile, etc.”

Holistic approach

This more holistic approach will support further developments in marketing strategies, Yonts adds. And that will create even more challenges, he figures. As data alerts retailers to hot products and categories, retailers may need to develop new venues for marketing to those interests and, in turn, measuring the impact of those new venues, he says.

“One problem we can run into is that as we learn of markets we need to focus on or new products in demand by consumers, we may realize there is no good place to advertise because no one is really reaching those interests,” Yonts says. “So we may create that advertising place ourselves, perhaps in a new blog.” And since that blog might engage visitors with video and consumer generated content, the retailer would need a way to measure its effect on traffic and sales.

“What I expect to do is get data showing what consumers are looking for and where they’re going, broken down by demographics,” Yonts says. “Five or 10 years from now retailers will be basing their entire merchandising processes on this data-what products to sell or not sell. This will have profound implications for retail operations. By incorporating this data into retail operations sooner, it will affect merchandising before marketing. When we see a demand, we’ll find a product based on that demand instead of coming up with a product first and then trying to market it.”

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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