Aardvark Daily aardvark (ard'-vark) a controversial animal with a long probing nose used for sniffing out the facts and stimulating thought and discussion.

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Net Ratings -- Who Cares? 7 February 2002 Edition
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According to recent reports (IDG), local online publishers are lamenting the demise of the independent Web rating service previously offered by AC Nielsen.

It appears that they're scrambling to try and find some kind of replacement service to fill the void that has been left.

I suspect that the desire to do so is driven by a perception that they must adopt the standards and practice of broadcast and print publishers -- but is this really necessary?

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I have to wonder whether there really is a need for "online ratings" services.

After all, as we learnt in the dot-com crash of 2000, the size of your audience means far less than the sensibility of your business model. Some of the most popular sites came crashing down when it became apparent that they had no formula for converting eyeballs to revenue.

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And, unfortunately for online publishers, the huge breadth, volume and ready accessibility of online information has made the ad-funded publishing model a real lame duck. It was proven many times over that, even when ad-sales are strong, it is still very common for the cost of producing and delivering a page to a visitor to be higher than the revenue it can produce from advertising.

The services offered by companies such as AC Nielsen are valuable when you're dealing with a medium such as radio or TV -- simply because the publisher/broadcaster has no other way of determining just how many people they're reaching.

The Net is a whole different beast however, and one of its major strengths, from the perspective of an advertiser, is its ability to provide a very accurate indication as to the size of the audience reached.

Of course it's not only raw volumes of audience that are important to advertisers -- they also want to know how many "qualified" prospects they are reaching. In the broadcast area, this type of targeting can be quite difficult to achieve without the type of demographic material provided by the ratings companies but on the Net it's nowhere near as hard.

Information on the Internet tends to be far more precisely stratified than it is in a newspaper or on TV/radio.

For instance, you can bet your bottom dollar that almost everyone who visits this site has an interest in the Internet, and there's a better than even chance that they're employed in the industry.

By comparison, there's no similar way of telling how many people watching the 6 pm news on TV1 are workers in the local Net industry -- unless you call on the services of the ratings companies.

Then there's the information that can be delivered by the ad-servers which deliver online advertising to your screen. If properly configured, they can tell exactly how many people saw an advertisement and how many of those actually responded by clicking. That's the type of information that just can't be gathered from any other medium.

What publishers should be doing perhaps is using an independent ad-serving organisation whose records are regularly audited. This company could then provide advertisers with the effective audience of those sites to which it served ads, and it could also provide an unbiased report on the effectiveness of that advertising.

Perhaps such an organisation ought to be set up as a not-for-profit operation by the same consortium of online publishers that are planning to meet shortly.

I'm sure the advertising agencies would just love to have a single, consistent point of placement for their clients -- saving them the hassle of dealing (at a technical and creative level) with several different publishers.

It would also be quite nice to have a system where advertisers could throw a percentage of their placements into a pool operated by this organisation, and for which different publishers could bid so as to fill gaps in their inventory. Such a system would be a win-win for both advertiser and publisher.

Then there's the issue of why on earth advertisers and online publishers are still using plain, flat, one-way advertising in the form of banner and display placements. Good grief -- we're dealing with the most interactive mass-media ever developed, yet everyone still treats it like a piece of shiny paper or a slow TV broadcast.

Of course banner/display ads don't work, no matter how irritating, intrusive and annoying you make them. Why on earth don't we see some creative thinking out there? I have a list of suggestions as long as your arm as to how online advertising can be more interactive and engaging -- and therefore more effective.

Maybe these ideas won't float -- after all, I can't admit to being an "expert" in the field. The most popular online publication I've every created and operated only got 2 million hits a day ;-)

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All this traffic has meant that I've had to shift the site to a new server to ensure that your daily dose is always fresh and delivered to your browser with minimal delays.

I also invest over 300 hours per year writing the daily column and compiling the day's news index -- all for your illumination and entertainment.

If you haven't sent any money to help offset the costs of running this ad-free, 100% Kiwi, always fresh, often controversial site then you can give yourself the warm-fuzzies this Christmas by doing so now.

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