Hitmetrix - User behavior analytics & recording

Why Don’t We All Speak the Same Web Language?

On the open frontier of the Net, what means one thing to you can mean something entirely different to the next cowboy. Whether you’re negotiating an ad buy or talking shop at a trade show, it helps to agree on the language. So it’s important, even for those of us who can recite Web lingo in our sleep, to revisit the terminology periodically.

And as the online world changes at lightning speed, the models we used for measuring results are constantly augmented by new information. Web site publishers, advertisers and marketers alike need to agree on the terms to use them effectively. When one person’s hit is another’s clickthrough, there’s gonna be trouble in paradise.

The mechanisms for measuring traffic are complex, and the user needs to understand how they work and how to interpret them. Hits, unique sessions, IP addresses and page views are not interchangeable terms. Hits refers to individual uploaded files and graphics on pages viewed by the user, while page views are views of an entire page on a site. Unique sessions are individual visits to the site, including repeat visits by one person. IP addresses identify unique visitors, tallying the number of individuals viewing the site.

A little real-world perspective: a few years ago, average page views per site were about 2.5. Some portals, such as Netscape, found that as they increased their server farm (hence their visitors’ speed), folks spent the same amount of time – about 5.5 minutes – at the site as before, with increased page views.

Conventional wisdom says speed and more sophisticated site content keep the visitor engaged longer. The more niche-targeted the site, the more valuable it is to the visitor from publishers’ and advertisers’ perspective.

Traffic-measurement tools give site publishers ammunition for marketing, advertising and sponsorship targets, but advertisers have their own (in)vested interest in the numbers. Predictably, one of the hottest issues in online advertising is the discrepancy between numbers reported by site publishers and those reported by advertisers.

Ironically, new technology can make measurement harder. Here are a few of the roadblocks to accurate Web measurement:

• Caching. When a visitor enters a site, the page is “cached” in his/her local hard drive and brought back to the screen upon subsequent visits to that site. An advertiser may see traffic – appearing to have come via an ad – for months after an ad campaign has ended due to this “saving” mechanism.

• Bots. These online robots operate across Web sites to seek information (on low-cost airfares, for example) for the visitor, giving the appearance that the visitor actually opened all of the pages.

• AOL. Internet service giant America Online uses proprietary software to group individuals from its portal to appear as one visitor originating in Vienna, VA, (AOL’s home) when measured by Web sites.

As new technologies emerge, Web measurement becomes more complex and more specific. It becomes obvious that online advertising results based on a CPM or cost-per-click model, while not yet obsolete, can be ambiguous, and unreliable at worst.

The ambiguity has led to greater interest in tracking online advertising on a cost-per-action basis – in effect, tallying visitors’ specific actions once they click on an ad and are driven to a landing page.

And here’s where the killer creative comes in: leading your visitor to the right page with the right ad on the right site to get results demands ingenuity at every turn.

Your first challenge is designing the ad not just to generate clickthrough, but to attract visitors motivated to take the action you want. That means the creative content relates to, and is fulfilled on, the landing page. It is easier said than done, judging from some tech companies’ recent great-looking campaigns that are only peripherally related to their site content.

The next challenge is ad placement – identifying sites that predispose visitors to your product or service, including not only high-traffic portals but targeted buys based on site-specific content. Each media buyer’s approach is different, but as in any Internet biz, the big assets here are imagination and insight into the Web visitor’s mindset.

Your final challenge is crafting the page where the visitor lands and (you hope) takes action by completing a form, subscription or download, leaving you with a valuable lead. Keeping this page streamlined and focused on your objective is key. Focus their eyeballs and tell them where you want them to go.

Amid the plethora of options that vie for surfers’ attention on the Net, it’s refreshing to suddenly be told exactly what you’re expected to do next. Sometimes, fewer choices for the customer are better choices.

Your choices in this creative medium, on the other hand, are limited only by your imagination.

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