Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

We don’t know squat

Posted on | September 19, 2010 | No Comments

We have soaring expectations that web metrics are finally the way we’re going to measure reader/user behavior and therefore editorial and advertising value, and it turns out not so.

A Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism study suggests it’s almost no better that old-school print metrics (Audit Bureau of Circulation etc.).

gravelly dew

Metrics tracking varies widely, and even within a single analytics service the data can seem wildly different from one day to the next.

There are several important consequences, according to the study.

  • Uncertainty about audience measurement hinders online ad spending, with buyers and sellers of media favoring incompatible metrics.
  • Uncertainty about audience measurement impedes editorial decision-making, with editors unsure of which readers favor what coverage.
  • Advertising technologies used online, such as behavioral targeting, tend to erode the value of a news outlet’s audience profile. Increasingly, the decisive information resides not with the publisher but in the databases of intermediaries such as ad networks or profile brokers.

Obviously we’re not going back. So where do we go from here?

We manage expectations while we understand that probably in the short term (or maybe ever) we will find no silver analytics bullet. (I think of this when I think about the “unique visitors” metric. There’s no agreement today what constitutes a unique visitor. And even if you take the ip address, there’s no guarantee that the person who owns one ip address isn’t clearing cookies constantly. In fact, in the engineering audience, I bet it happens far more than among general consumer-users).

The Columbia study calls out Tom Heslin from the Providence Journal who describes the current state of affairs as the “irony of expectations.” Says he:

“The development of metrics has far outstripped
knowledge of ad buyers and sellers. There is a real disconnect between the
technology and how it can be applied and used.”

“The development of metrics has far outstripped knowledge of ad buyers and sellers. There is a real disconnect between the technology and how it can be applied and used.”

In B:B publishing, lead-generation is the “It Girl” of today. What companies do with leads varies widely. Often those leads end up on a dusty shelf somewhere. For publishers, it’s a slow death spiral, but it won’t always be that way, however.

Tomorrow’s It Girl will be behavioral targeting. Where leads gives you names and contact information within a certain context (“Phil visited our virtual conference booth so he must be interested in our product”), behavioral targeting promises to deliver really intriguing intel (“Phil read stories about 65nm manufacturing, synthesis tools and analog ip blocks, and he attended a webinar on SoC design, so he must be about to start his design project”).

This is the nature of media evolution. The problem comes when media buyer and seller continually butt heads because buyers think “the answer” is just around the corner. It isn’t necessarily.

So, embrace the chaos.

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