Web tracking- why their mistakes could kill off publications

by Jason Gross

27 October 2006


Business Week magazine has a sobering article about why web statistic tracking isn’t an exact science and that’s not good news for a lot of already-struggling publications.
In Web Numbers: What’s Real?, we learn about the different, competing tracking methods to say how popular (or unpopular) a website is.  Just like the Nielsen tracking for other media (i.e. radio, TV), it’s not bullet proof.  There are different standards which yield different results, sometimes far apart from each other.

The reason that this is so troublesome for magazines is that this kind of data is what advertisers use to determine how much they will or won’t pay for space in particular publications.  If a mag’s website is flush with hits, they can then turn around a charge more for ad banners on their site and if they’re numbers aren’t good, that’s going to hurt their bottom line.

Hopefully you see where this is going.  If the numbers are so skewed that it’s hard to tell which end is up, how do you think that’s going to effect the ad dollars that are the life blood of publications?  Also, if a mag’s site is getting a lot of hits but the tracking service doesn’t reflect that correctly, that mag is going to be hurting for money even though it shouldn’t be.

What makes it worse is that since the ad money is shrinking from the print realm and drifting more and more to the web realm, this becomes more of a high stakes game which could potentially sink a lot of publications for no other reason than the fact that their tracking system somehow cheated them. 

As the BW article points out, until this mess is straightened out, there’s going to be a lot of confusion, not to mention a lot of blood-letting.  Makes you think the Luddites might have a point after all…

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