Web measurement may be a necessary tool, but should publishers pay for the service?

By Marrecca Fiore

The jury is still out as to whether or not publishers should pay for Web measurement and analytics services. Companies like Omniture, which counts Time Inc. and Maxim among its clients, and Coremetrics, used by Men’s Health, The Economist and others, offer sophisticated Web measurement services for a fee.

But Scott Klein, vice president of Web sites and technology for The Nation, says smaller- and mid-size publishers might want to try a free analytic service such as Google.com/analytics. "You don’t have to pay a lot of money for it," Klein says. "Especially for people who are small and don’t need the kind of advanced stuff that Omniture or Coremetrics offer. Omniture is a terrific product and we’re actually moving to it next year. But Google Analytics is completely free, uses the same methodology, but it’s less sophisticated."

Many publishers say using some sort of analytics service is a necessity because it not only offers information on what users like and don’t like, but also provides information on how their sites rank industrywide. "If you don’t have it, you’re flying blind," Klein says. "In our case, we were selling subscriptions and if we had a good day, we wanted to know why we had a good day. And it also helps us out in terms of knowing what content is popular. It let’s us know how many people come to our site once and how many come a bunch of times. How many people read around and what our return rate is."

Paid versus free

Omniture senior director of product & solutions marketing Chris Parkin says free services work well for some smaller and mid-size companies, but aren’t right for publishing companies that are making large investments in online technology. "Google analytics is more for the mom and pop type business, but we can provide real time insight into what’s happening in your business," he says.

Omniture, Parkin says, has the ability to tell publishers what users are doing "pre-click," that is before they get to a Web site. "We take the pre-click information that is presented to us from Google, Yahoo and MSN, and provide that information to publisher, as well as information on their post click behavior once they are on the Web site," he says. "That makes (the publisher) able to monetize on a keyword basis." Omniture also offers best practices information, real time user profiling and has the ability to measure multimedia platforms and interactive technology such a streaming video, Flash and AJAX or Asynchronous JavaScript, which many free services are not able to do, says Parkin.

Web site comparisons

Another free service providing publishers with information such as how many people come to their sites, how often, what their user demographics are, and how they compare to other publishing sites, is Internet ranking service, Quantcast. Quantcast allows advertisers and publishers to find reports on more than a half million Web sites.

Quantcast CEO Konrad Feldman says the service works better than traditional measurement services such as those provided by Nielsen because, rather than using panels and polling to gauge audience engagement, it uses technology placed on a publishers Web site to track actual usage. "The idea is that (the publisher signs) up at our site and we give you a small piece of code or pixel and everytime someone visits that site a small request made to our site to collect that data."

The site offers statistics on a variety of users from passersby, that is, people who use the site once, to addicts or people who are on the site daily. It also breaks down usage according to age bracket and tells publishers their sites’ engagement levels compared to similar sites on the Web.

"We want to be the centerpiece of conversation between advertisers and publishers and help advertisers find most effective publishers in terms of their product offerings," says Feldman, adding that his company does charge of fee for matching advertisers to publishers. "We serve as an intermediary. So, to start charging for our measurement services would be the quickest way to limit our effectiveness. The more publishers who use our site, the more accurate our numbers become."