Ask most publishers, consumer or b-to-b, and they will tell you that “measured media” is the most common refrain they’re hearing from advertisers these days. Sometimes it’s just a tactic to beat the publisher’s price down but usually it’s because the advertiser really wants to know what they’re getting for their money.

The challenge is defining which metrics make the most sense (and in what context). Just as the quest for leads has moved beyond “generation” to “cultivation,” smart advertisers and publishers are no longer as concerned with volume as much as where, when and how viewers participated online. “We offer advertiser campaign-specific metrics,” says Dave Newcorn, vice president of e-media at Summit Publishing, which uses AccelaWorks Web response management system. “Those have much more meaning than global metrics due to the way Web advertising is bought. What good are 1 zillion site visitors if you’re only purchasing x number of impressions?”

Much of the industry has grown weary of impressions and clicks. “We are able to offer metrics such as industry, job title, company size, etc.,” says Newcorn.

According to Josh London, general manager of online at SX2 Media Labs, publisher of Computer Shopper, most advertisers fall into two distinct areas: branding and direct. “Are you trying to sell something or promote a measurable action, such as a download or sign-up for a white paper or newsletter?” he adds. “Are you trying to increase awareness that will lead to a sale? Advertisers generally have that part of it. They can be very specific about what they want but it falls apart with how they want to implement it.”

But much of media buying today is commoditized to the point that even if you can provide sophisticated metrics, the client (or at least the client’s intermediary) isn’t interested. “We’ll ask if a client is monitoring exit rates but that’s a sophisticated conversation that a lot of overworked agency folks simply don’t have time to discuss,” says London. “They’re bright enough and they understand it but agencies are being asked to do more with less like everyone else. It’s a lot easier to market to the installed base than market to new customers every time.”

Online advertising standards such as those from the Internet Advertising Bureau also seem to be more about saving time than offering value. “Engagement is getting more buzz but it’s a term that means a hundred different things,” says London. “We’re IAB-compliant but standardizing engagement is good for those who don’t have time to look into it further. I get it—someone who comes and goes x pages deep is worth more to me than someone who does half of that. But I don’t know if you can standardize that across clients in meaningful way. What’s meaningful to someone who wants to educate people about their product line and someone who wants to move product is very different.”

Industry standards are nice but only so relevant. “We find that the IAB standards aren’t too relevant for us. Ads that are much more effective are typically more content-based, more text, more html,” says Newcorn. “So we don’t put too much stock in the standards. They’re sorely needed but they just don’t apply to our market and ad concept.”

Are Publishers Getting Enough Credit?

Many advertisers are looking at what takes place on a publisher’s site but not necessarily how that factors into the final action taken by the viewer.

“We know from research that consumers aren’t just going to one site to research products, they go to a multitude of sites, yet typically it’s the last site they click before buying that gets the credit,” says London. “We’ve influenced a lot more than we’re getting direct credit for. That’s not abstract philosophy. Clients say, ‘We’ll pay you on direct sales but we’ll measure you on post impression even though we won’t give you credit for it.’ But surely if our post impression volume is greater than everyone else, isn’t that of value to you? And they say, ‘No, we throw it out.’ It’s kind of mind-boggling.”