Traffic Signals

New guidelines could give a clearer measure of web traffic.
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This story appears in the June 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Hits, server logs, impressions, page views--a marketer can certainly get confused by all the web-traffic measurement lingo. In 2002, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an association dedicated to helping various media companies increase their revenue, introduced its first measurement guidelines. But what's happened since then?

Quite a bit, says IAB president and CEO Greg Stuart. Stuart points to the Global Ad Campaign Measurement and Audit Guidelines developed by the organization's Measurement Task Force, released last November, as a key milestone in a 5- to 7-year plan to develop consistent, worldwide web-traffic measurement mechanisms. "First, we needed to create guidelines for impressions," says Stuart. "Then, we needed to address clicks. The third step is to define measurement of uniques. The industry hasn't really set out to tackle uniques yet."

The guidelines recommend that publishers and advertisers use a site's server log as the basis for impression or currency measurement, while incorporating methods to differentiate between spiders, robots and real people accessing the site. In addition, sites should prevent browsers from retrieving frequently viewed pages from their cache. When users view cached pages, those views aren't recorded by the server and could cause count discrepancies. The report also recommends that independent auditors certify counts for U.S. publishers.

Of course, these guidelines primarily involve players in the big leagues, says Teri McCready, web marketing consultant and founder of 360 Web Marketing in Carlsbad, California. "Smaller companies may not even know that they can measure anything other than the number of visitors," McCready says.

She says the guidelines are a step in the right direction and admits that companies are becoming more stat-savvy. Still, she says, click fraud and debates over discrepancies between counts made by servers and the sites themselves need to be resolved. The guidelines may also be difficult for small web publishers to understand and incorporate.

"The dividing line is how much they're willing to pay for consistency, and what they have in terms of IT resources," McCready says. "Smaller companies may take a while to catch up."

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