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Call for web terms standardisation

ALTHOUGH the dizzying heights of the dot.com days may be just a memory, Internet advertising is alive and well in Australia.

But, until now, its growth has been hampered by the difficulty advertisers have in measuring bang for their buck. A range of terms, from “hits” to “unique users”, is used to measure website activity, making it almost impossible to make comparisons between sites.

Australia’s peak Internet body, the Internet Industry Association, is planning to rectify this situation by standardising web measure-ment terms. The IIA has the backing of Australia’s biggest advertising associations, as well as the Circulations Audit Board and the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

IIA chief executive Peter Coroneos wants to see web measurement standardised to allow advertisers and publishers to have confidence in website and user information, and enable them to make informed choices.

Advertising Federation of Australia marketing manager Chris Thomas said the standardisation of terms was long overdue but that, during the dot.com bubble, the industry simply didn’t have the time to stop and work out a single methodology.

“The industry was growing too quickly to accommodate these sorts of basic standards. Now the industry has had time to take a breath, it can look at adopting these measures,” Mr Thomas said.

Murdoch University marketing lecturer Dwayne Veran said the IIA’s initiative would bring stability and structure to the market.

“The media buyers who make the decisions have to ultimately compare investments across the media. The more you have a currency that everybody can accept, the easier it is for you to make your comparisons across the media,” he said.

“But if everybody does it ad hoc, and you can only consider web figures in isolation, it is going to be very difficult to see an emergence of the industry.”

E Media Works director Peter Rich agreed that standard terminology was vital.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that, for the industry to go forward, you need to standard terms. I think generally the terms are standardised, but there needs to greater standardisation of measuring audience,” Mr Rich said.

“Currently there about five different companies in Australia commenting on site user levels and those figures vary widely from company to company because they are using slightly different methodologies. That is the single biggest issue at the moment.”

Despite the confusion, many marketing and media agencies Business News spoke to said the Internet was still the most accurate medium in measuring audience accessibility.

“For clients you can give them a real result, whereas with television and radio you are using ratings because you just don’t have that interaction with the consumer,” Market Force’s Leah Smith said.

The general consensus among online advertisers is that page impressions are the most commonly used measurement of web traffic, superseding the use of ‘hits’. An impression is the download of an entire web page file, whereas a hit is the download of a single file.

Hits are considered unreliable because one page might contain several files. Programmers also have been known to deliberately create file-intensive pages to boost the number of hits.

While the use of hits may be outdated, Mr Rich estimates 66 per cent of Internet advertising is still through the use of banners. But he said the use of banners was shifting to incorporate other techniques.

“What people are looking for is ‘beyond the banner’ advertising,” he said.

“The good sites, I believe, are working to offer more complicated solutions for advertising requests. They’re offering the element of banner interactivity, but also a promotional piece to go with it, or competition or some integrated content.”

Murdoch University’s Dwayne Veran said the popularity of banner ads had waned since the tech wreck.

“I don’t think there is a high degree in confidence in banner advertising. Banner ads are, to me, an example of using the wrong objective. It is taking the television model and imposing it on the net,” he said.

“The real power in the Internet is permission marketing … winning people’s permission and building a relationship over time.”

Mr Veran said it was interesting that Australia even had an Internet advertising industry, following the crash of technology stocks in April 2000. The fact Australia lagged behind the US in Internet development may have cushioned the industry, he said.

“In the US market you had a substantial correction. I don’t think the correction was anywhere near as substantial in a market like Australia.”

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