March 15, 2011

Digital Analytix First to Comply with IAB and ABCe Terminology Guidelines for Counting Audience Size

Yon Nuta
SVP Product

Yesterday I wrote about comScore’s exciting global launch of Digital Analytix, our next generation web analytics platform that aims to overcome many of the most chronic and acute pain points of web analytics professionals today. Digital Analytix delivers on the promises of greater flexibility, integration, ease of implementation and the groundbreaking ability to understand the demographic profile of your site’s audience.

In addition to all these advantages, Digital Analytix offers perhaps an even more important promise of a better future for digital measurement. This platform provides the answers to one of the most acute pain points our industry has experienced over the years – the debate over which “unique visitor” count is right.

Chronic 'Unique Visitor' Pain Plagues Industry
Historically, web analytics tools have used the terminology of “unique visitors” as a name for a metric that is essentially akin to “unique cookies.” However, people who are not versed in the intricacies of web analytics and the underlying counting rules naturally assume that the metric describes unique people. Digital measurement professionals know the difference between cookies and people and understand the basis for the web analytics unique visitor calculation. However, brand managers who buy advertising, media planners, and even other internal executives are often not aware of the difference.

In web analytics, the metric uses the observance of a new cookie to register a “unique visitor,” while in audience measurement the metric is based on actual people. Over the years, our research has consistently illustrated that cookie-based counting methods often show a “unique visitor” count as high as 2.5x that of measures counting people on the SAME set of machines. This is due to effects such as cookie deletion and the use of multiple browsers to access the same site. The difference is magnified when one takes into account the myriad of access devices used nowadays by the same visitor: multiple PCs at home, a different PC at work, not to mention mobile phones, tablets and other connected devices.

As a result, chronic confusion has prevailed regarding the differences between multiple unique visitor metrics, which are supposed to measure the same site audience. Many in the media industry believe that such confusion undermines advertisers’ confidence in digital measurement and adversely affects their willingness to endorse a medium they perceive as lacking reliable measurement.

It is for this reason that industry organizations such as the IAB and ABCe, both of which have a vital interest in the accuracy, transparency and monetization of digital media, have issued guidelines mandating that metrics based on adjusted unique cookies be called “unique browsers” instead of “unique visitors,” which in their view should be reserved for measurement of unique individuals.

Leading web analytics expert Eric T. Peterson summed it up by saying, “It is about time that we all agreed that ‘unique visitor’ reports coming from census-based [i.e. web site server] technologies frequently have no basis in reality. Further, we should all admit that cookie deletion, cookie blocking, multiple computers, multiple devices, etc. have enough potential to distort the numbers as to render the resulting numbers useless when used to quantify the number of human beings visiting a site or property.”

‘Unique Visitors’ Evolving to ‘Unique Browsers’ in Digital Analytix
We are pleased to announce that Digital Analytix is the first web analytics platform to comply with the aforementioned guidelines in adopting the “unique browser” nomenclature. In addition to supporting industry initiatives, we believe this change will help digital measurement professionals avoid having to explain to bewildered management the difference between wildly diverging metrics both known as the “unique visitor.”

After soliciting input from numerous industry leaders and organizations throughout the web analytics ecosystem, such as ABCi, ABCe, the IAB, and WAA, voices began to coalesce around a single solution to this semantic debate. By and large, the industry recognized that the name needs to change, and the name with the greatest consensus behind it has been “unique browsers.” So that is what we’re going to be calling this metric in Digital Analytix.

Importantly, this metric will remain consistent with the WAA’s definition and interpretation:

The number of inferred individual people (filtered for spiders and robots), within a designated reporting timeframe, with activity consisting of one or more visits to a site. Each individual is counted only once in the unique visitor measure for the reporting period… The deletion of cookies, whether 1st party or 3rd party, will cause unique visitors to be inflated over the actual number of people visiting a site.

Bill Perry, auditing director at ABCi commented “At ABC Interactive, we think it’s important for the online publishing and advertising industry to use common language and definitions to the extent possible. We support the nomenclature change that comScore is implementing to differentiate between unique visitors and browsers. This is in line with the standard used by ABCi in the U.S., ABCe in the UK, the IAB, and many other leading industry organizations.”

Net, support for the idea of a name change is widespread within the industry. Nonetheless, this change was not taken lightly on comScore’s part. It was done with the full understanding that such changes can be uncomfortable, even if done to enable progress and innovation, as is the case here. We recognize that web analytics professionals have become accustomed to their understanding of the “unique visitor” metric and that adopting a new name may encounter some initial resistance. But the industry is calling for this change for good reason, and comScore is proud to lead the way by labeling unique browsers appropriately, while also providing a true person-based audience metric. These two essential metrics, calculated differently and used for different purposes, must work side-by-side to deliver both web analytics and audience measurement insights, rather than in conflict with each other. By finally putting this debate to bed, we hope these changes will help our industry focus on what really matters – using data and analytics to unleash insights and drive value for digital businesses, and providing advertisers with clear, reliable measurement that builds confidence in the digital channel .

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