The Times slams into Forbes.com this morning on the eternal subject of squishy traffic numbers. This is an issue endemic to the online media industry, one that harks back to the days of Time-Warner’s Pathfinder when Gerald Levin would boast about millions of “hits.” Now that the industry has settled down and focused on unique visitors, there is still a vast discrepancy between the external traffic reporters — ComScore, Nielsen, Alexa, etc. — and a site’s own server logs, ostensibly the only true measure of traffic, yet one wholly dependent on what filters and analytics are being applied to the raw numbers.
With no equivalent to the magazine industry’s third-party audit structure in place (BPA, etc.), online media has been able to play a game of squishy reporting since 1994. Take a good stat, lead with it, and let the rest of the numbers fall where they may.
“But a closer look at the numbers raises questions about Forbes.com’s industry-leading success. For its claim of a worldwide audience of nearly 15.3 million, it has been citing February data from comScore Media Metrix, one of the two leading providers of third-party Web traffic data.
“There are several problems with that statistic, though, and comScore has since revised the figure downward to less than 13.2 million as part of a broader revamping of its worldwide data for many sites. Jack Flanagan, executive vice president at comScore Media Metrix, said the new figures were released “a couple of months ago” after it changed its methods for estimating global audiences.”
While bragging rights are nice — “We’re the biggest” is always a nice marketing message — the advertisers are the one’s who are best placed to develop the metric that measures and that comes down to conversions. Forget CTR (click-through rates, forget reach (monthly uniques, visits), and focus on what happens to the referred traffic once it arrives in the form of generated leads, shoppers, etc. The notion that any media buyer would give more than a passing glance at gross tonnage metrics is risible. It’s their own metrics, how they measure what they’ve bought, that determines whether they’ll renew a campaign or drop it.