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Hesitation and laziness are holding back web standards

by Toby Hicks, communications executive, PPA

mike seery
Speaking at the forum entitled Accountability – why bother on 15 June, Mike Seery, chief technology officer of the Economist group, said: "Advertisers need to be able to compare like with like and compare what they see. It is most important to have a universal set of metrics that are standardised."

The UK online industry needs to commit to agreed standards for measuring the effectiveness of campaigns if revenues are to grow significantly, according the speakers.

richard foan
Richard Foan, managing director of ABC ELECTRONIC and moderator of the forum, said: "Ninety per cent of media buyers want independent third party verification of sites. If we're going to increase online media spend beyond two or three per cent we need to earn the level of trust other media owners have."

He said that the online industry needed to address laziness but said that through The Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) and the Internet Technical Group (ITG) the bodies were in place to agree online standards.

The speakers agreed that the online medium was not being treated with the same professionalism as off line: "If we were launching a new print publication we wouldn't even have to think about whether to have it audited: it's a given," said Seery. "The hesitation we have as an industry is part of the problem."

He talked through the different ways of monitoring traffic, illustrating the vastly different results achieved using different methods (browser based, audited, publisher log files). He pointed out that web logs for example include search engine robots, PDA browsers and pop ups.

j swinfen green
Jeremy Swinfen Green, managing partner of I-level Generator gave the agency perspective saying that agencies were looking for "simple, reliable and accurate data." He blamed the lack of media spend in online on the multitude of different ways of measuring campaigns and the confusion about how accurate these were: "There are always discrepancies but we need to know whether it is five per cent or 25 per cent". He called for there to be more respect for the role of the web trafficker, comparing it with the equivalent position in television: "In TV you would receive six months training; not so in online. Trading currencies have changed far too often. We need industry standards, and they must be comparable to offline."

r goosey
Richard Goosey, vice president of research and development at Nielson// Net Ratings laid out his vision for what the standardised system should be. He said that it was vital to have a system that would "measure a person and not a PC." He blamed clients' scepticism about inflated unique user figures on cookie deletion. "Cookie clearing can vastly inflate website visitor tallies."

Following the presentations the speakers took part in a question and answer session with the audience of senior online publishers. They were asked about the need for demographic profiling online, and the relevance of click-through data. In concluding the session Foan accepted that the system wouldn't be perfect but argued that none were: "If you look at the last few months there have been doubts expressed about RAJAR, BARB and the NRS but shed loads of money are going into them because they are agreed industry standards. The truth is all the big publishers realise we need a common industry currency."

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