Measure for Measure


The Internet is "the most measurable medium," so perhaps not surprisingly, it's also the most measured medium, too. The problem is nobody's measurements ever seem to match, and sometimes they are not even in the same ballpark.

There are a number of reasons online measurement is such a mess. First, even at this late date, we're not all speaking the same language. Just last week, I heard one publisher proudly touting the number of "unique visits" (think about that one for a second!) they had achieved last month. And I still frequently hear about the number of "unique hits" this site or the other is experiencing. Until we get the language right, we have no hope of getting the measurement right.

Then there's the measurement process itself. A newly released study by Comscore suggests that so many users are now clearing the cookies on their computers that many sites are vastly over-reporting their unique visitors. Also this week is a report in the Wall Street Journal that Neilsen is dropping good old dependable pageviews as a reporting metric. Why? New Web 2.0 technologies such as Ajax deliver content in ways that the traditional pageview metric doesn't measure, meaning that sites will increasingly be under-counting pageviews while over-counting unique visitors.

Even more scary, this is just this week's news. There's been a steady drumbeat of reports pointing up the weaknesses of existing web analytics.

In short, Web technology is changing faster than measurement technology. This suggests that in the coming years, publishers that can describe their audience (through online registration or even companion print publications) will start to have a real competitive advantage over those who only quantify their audience in web-centric terms.

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