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Revenue Science Tackles Behavioral Segment Quality Issue

Revenue Science will launch a service to gauge the quality of audience segments sold on Web sites using its behavioral-targeting software, the Bellevue, WA, company said yesterday.

Revenue Science will use Nielsen//NetRatings' Web behavior and demographic panel data to rate the quality of Web publishers' audience segments. The Audience Quality Certification scores will be in dozens of broad behavior categories such as finance as well as subcategories like “finance: credit cards.”

Revenue Science and rival Tacoda Systems, New York, have signed deals with hundreds of Web publishers to let them serve ads based on site behavior. For example, the Wall Street Journal Online, a Revenue Science customer, can sell a bank an ad campaign that reaches avid investors no matter where they are on the site, based on their prior site behavior. Such targeting gives advertisers better precision in finding their audience and lets publishers charge a premium for ads on lower-priced sections of their site.

With Audience Quality Certification, an advertiser could find a quality score for a category like “finance: credit card” to compare the consumer audiences on WSJ.com, for example, and other sites.

The audience quality scores let advertisers run and evaluate behavioral-targeted ad campaigns across multiple sites without worrying that they are getting an inferior audience on some sites, said Nick Johnson, senior vice president of business development at Revenue Science.

“This is another metric that offers confidence to the buying community,” he said.

Revenue Science's effort comes as a reply to Tacoda, which announced a push last month to standardize audience segments in 22 categories. Tacoda Targets are based on the frequency and recency of visits. Tacoda constructed the targets based on ad campaigns that have run using its software.

The two companies take very different approaches to determining a segment. Tacoda identifies a consumer as a car buyer based on a visit to an auto-related content page at least once in the past 45 days. Revenue Science, in targeting the same consumer, would give more weight to a visitor of Edmunds.com than a person who read an article about cars on a local news site.

“It allows advertisers to look for something a little more tangible than a visit criteria for how they're defining their segment,” Johnson said.

Tacoda CEO Dave Morgan said Revenue Science's service appeared to be a media-planning tool that could benefit advertisers but at the expense of publishers.

“You can't put a number on the passion of an ESPN fan,” he said. “You can't put a number on the quality of the content they deliver.”

Peter Naylor, senior vice president of sales at iVillage, which has run 30 behavioral-targeted campaigns this year using Tacoda, said the efforts to standardize audience segments would help publishers such as news sites, where audience segments are less apparent. He does not think the audience standards will lead to uniform audience segments across Web publishers.

“I do believe it comes down to a publisher-by-publisher basis,” he said. “Each publisher will decide how to define its own segments.”

Behavioral targeting is a small but growing part of online advertising. Tacoda has said its clients have run 10,000 behavioral ad campaigns this year. Johnson said Revenue Science's clients had run campaigns for more than 100 advertisers.

“The value proposition for behavioral targeting has been totally apparent for publishers, but not as apparent for advertisers,” Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein said.

Advertisers have cited the difficulty of running audience-based ad campaigns across multiple Web sites as a major obstacle to the widespread adoption of behavioral targeting.

“I think where the problem might lie is that Tacoda uses a different methodology,” said Kevin Howard, director of media at interactive agency Avenue A/Razorfish East. “What if a certain site is using Tacoda and another is using Revenue Science?”

Revenue Science will build its audience scores through Nielsen//NetRatings' MegaPanel, which tracks Web behavior and buying habits of 300,000 U.S. consumers. Manish Bhatia, senior vice president of product marketing at Nielsen//NetRatings, said the Revenue Science service would let advertisers more easily compare campaigns run online with those offline by going beyond just Web behavior.

“From an advertiser's perspective that's fine and dandy, but what that doesn't give me is the demographic data of my audience,” he said.

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