Your guide to who
measures what in
the online space
Panels, tags, clickstream and census-level data—which
service is right for you depends on what you’re tracking
■ BY COTTON DELO firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ONLINE MARKETING world has
never been more awash in quantifiable
information on audience sizes, demographic make-ups and the paths they
travel through the web. But the flip
side is that we are in danger of becoming overwhelmed by data distractions.
That’s why we put together this
handy little chart for making sense of
the online measurement space.
ComScore and Nielsen remain in a cate-
gory on their own as the primary trust-
ed planning sources for advertisers and
agencies placing ad dollars, though
ComScore has arguably pulled ahead in
recent years, largely due to a loss in faith
in Nielsen’s accuracy after multiple dis-
closures about glitches in its counting.
Yet a host of new players, such as
Quantcast, Compete, Hitwise and
Google, are starting to emerge as addi-
tional rich sources of online data. We
spoke to execs in both the publishing and
agency worlds to gauge the good and the
bad of each service–and which they
would turn to for specific data needs.
Nielsen now has a hybrid methodology, similar
to ComScore’s, combining data from a 200,000-
strong panel in the U.S. (and another 200,000
for the other 10 countries it covers) and data
collected through tags that publishers place on
their websites. The hybrid model was put into
effect this summer for the U.S. and Spain.
STRENGTHS Due to Nielsen’s brand
visibility and market penetration, they
are often the default, said one client,
“even though I think everyone would
acknowledge that ComScore’s numbers are
better.” Nielsen’s @Plan product for audience
measurement and research can be particularly
useful for collecting user-behavior data. And
Nielsen’s AdRelevance tool can shed light on a
brand’s position in the marketplace by looking
at impression levels generated by competitors’
ads. Nielsen’s other advantage is its heritage in
TV measurement, which puts it in an
interesting position when it comes to cross-media measurement.
WATCH OUT FOR Nielsen introduced its
hybrid measurement two years after
ComScore, adding to the perception
that its technology is lagging. Like ComScore,
Nielsen is a paid service, so it’s less widely cited
than some of the free audience-measurement
services to which everyone has access.
Quantcast implements direct measurement
and reports that its tag is deployed on 100
million websites globally. It’s free to use the tag
and view reports, but there are premium
services for both advertisers and publishers.
STRENGTHS It’s cheap and provides a
wealth of data on traffic, usage metrics
and demographics. Since most of the
data is viewable to anyone, Quantcast has
gained exposure on occasions where agencies,
planners or journalists don’t have access to
ComScore or Nielsen numbers. It’s unheard of
for it to be part of an RFP, though. An agency
source said her outfit works with Quantcast as
ComScore has a panel of 2 million worldwide
internet users, half of whom are in the U.S.,
who opt in to sharing their clickstream data—
the digital trail of web pages they’ve visited. It
reports on 43 individual countries. In 2009, it
introduced direct (site-centric) measurement,
where publishers can apply “tags” to their
page, allowing ComScore to register traffic
directly. Those two data streams are then
triangulated to produce an estimate. This is
often called “census-based” measurement
because it takes into account actual visits,
rather than just extrapolating number of visits
based on its panelists’ behavior.
STRENGTHS “They’re No. 1 forareason,”
said one client, saying he’s been
impressed by ComScore’s consistent
a media partner as opposed to a
metrics/analytics provider, going to them for a
media buy since they also function as an ad
WATCH OUT FOR Accuracy still remains
an issue for Quantcast for sites that
aren’t tagged. “If they don’t have a .tag
for your site, the data is just woeful. You get
the tag and it gets pretty good,” said a
publisher who still gives Quantcast the best
chance of breaking into the next tier.
Hitwise partners with ISPs to measure a sample
of 10 million U.S. internet users (and 25 million
globally in 10 markets), analyzing their
clickstream data (which collects the digital trail of
web pages they’ve visited). Within that U.S. group,
2. 5 million are part of an opt-in panel through
third-party providers who give info about
themselves such as age, gender and income.
STRENGTHS Hitwise data is cheap and can
be useful on an ad hoc basis.
Clickstream data can help tell you the
linkage between certain sites and can be
focus on improvement and responsiveness to
advertisers, agencies and publishers. They
were the first major measurement company to
roll out the hybrid model, using an algorithm
that adds direct measurement to panel data.
And they have a good mobile measurement
product, MobiLens. Other areas include an ad
effectiveness product—tracking who’s seeing
ads, their reach and frequency.
WATCH OUT FOR Notjustanybodycanlook
up data on who’s visiting what;
ComScore represents an investment for
clients who want regular access. And publishers
have kvetched that third-party services don’t
accurately measure their sites, thanks to
disparities between the services and a site’s own
server log (a disparity accounted for by cookie
deletion, say the measurement companies)—
though the complaints have dropped
substantially since it installed its hybrid service.
useful in analyzing search trends and volume.
Hitwise can sometimes answer questions that
ComScore or Nielsen wouldn’t be a good
resource for, such as how many of a website’s
users play golf or go to the movies.
WATCH OUT FOR Publishers, advertisers
and agencies don’t really use it for site
or audience measurement. That’s
because it doesn’t provide absolute numbers,
but rather represents audiences as a
percentage of the online population. So
instead of telling you how many people visited
Groupon in May, it will tell you that Groupon
had 10% marketshare of U.S. internet visits.
Compete has a sample of 2 million U.S. internet
users, split between its proprietary panel and
clickstream data from ISPs and Application
Service Providers. Direct measurement is
currently in beta.
STRENGTHS Competeischeap. One
publisher told us that Compete’s data on
general U.S. internet behavior is strong,
Compete on a brand study to gather information
on what consumers thought about a particular
product. She liked that Compete sent an email
survey to a panel of users who were known to
have seen an ad instead of just using surveys
that popped up on sites where the ad ran. She’s
mostly seen [Compete] used by marketers and
brands for deep competitive measurement of
activity on their own sites.
WATCH OUT FOR Fordataonaparticularsite
or demographic information, ComScore
or Quantcast is more reliable. B-to-b
publishers also tend to grouse about at-work
audiences not factoring into Compete’s site
measurement. Compete doesn’t have a
separate “at work” panel like some competitors,
but said it does measure 20,000 at-work
internet users—though that’s not a lot in the
world of online measurement.
Sources include aggregated Google Toolbar
data from users who have opted into the
toolbar’s enhanced features, opt-in anonymous
Google Analytics data; opt-in external consumer
panel data and other third-party market
research. It’s aggregated over millions of users.
STRENGTHSIt’s free and can be integrated
with Ad Words and the Doubleclick ad-
serving products. An agency source
said it’s a useful tool to brainstorm initial ideas for
a campaign, since you can plug in demographics
for the audience you’re looking to reach and
quickly access information about sites they’re
likely to visit. It’s also possible to see whether ads
are accepted on a site, and whether it’s in
Google’s ad network.
WATCH OUT FOR “Tens of thousands” of
media plans are managed on Ad
Planner, according to a Google
spokesman, but it still hasn’t really hit the
mainstream enough for advertisers and
agencies to inquire about it, says a publishing
exec. Folks on the big-agency side tend to put
more stock into ComScore’s paid site-measurement service.