Periodically Nielsen//NetRatings and Comscore Media Metrix trot out lists that purport to tell us which sites are the most popular. Writing for Wired News, columnist Adam Penenberg points out that the two big measurement companies can’t agree on really basic things, like how many people visited Wired.com last month.
I would hope that Wired can afford its own measurement tools. But the right question is: Why should anybody care? Mass numbers are a holdover from the old century, an anachronism in an age of precision marketing, targeted advertising, and sophisticated audience management technology. Whether CNN.com is ahead of MSNBC.com, or vice versa, should make no difference to an advertiser. Nobody buys full-run advertising on a site like that; major ad purchases are based on cost per thousand measured advertising impressions. The measurement is performed by the ad delivery engine — typically DART or Open AdStream. Ratings companies aren’t needed in that picture.
These popularity-contest numbers aren’t relevant to site management, either, when much more telling and precise information is available from site traffic analysis tools such as Omniture and HitBox, from site registration systems, and from audience management/ad-targeting tools such as Tacoda AMS and Revenue Science. Audience qualities and behaviors are the meat and potatoes of the new analytics.
Nielsen and Comscore do have some interesting things they can tell us — about how much time users spend on what types of experiences across the Internet, for example. And Comscore has done some interesting work measuring how perceptions change during the course of an ad campaign. But popularity contests? Fuggedaboutit!