Advertising online? How to compare website metrics before finalizing your online media plan

One of the challenges a marketer faces when coming up with an online advertising media plan is getting a reasonably reliable set of traffic metrics of the prospective media outlets.

There are three main problems I have encountered:

a) Different publishers use different web analytics tools, and hence there is no common benchmark.

b) Publishers report different metrics in their media packs: for example, some highlight unique visitors, some talk about visits while some rave about their page views. Occasionally I stumble upon some publishers – admittedly not very large ones- who still talk about hits!

c) In most cases, we have to rely on the publisher’s word in the absence of independent 3rd-party audits of these online metrics (the number of publishers who get their traffic numbers audited or are willing to share more in-depth reports from their analytics is quite small).

You can get relevant metrics from providers like Comscore, Nielsen or Hitwise; however, you’ll need to have fairly deep pockets for that. I’m not very sure of the accuracy of the numbers either.

So, instead, let’s look at alternatives- which are either free or can be relatively cheaper to get a fair estimate of the potential traffic to the online media channel you are considering for your advertising campaign.

a) Use Google Ad Planner: I have used several free online sources to compare traffic to websites: Alexa, Compete, Quantcast to name a few, but either the information one got back wasn’t very useful or there seemed to be serious issues of accuracy, particularly with services like Compete and Quantcast which are quite US-centric.

Amongst the tools/ sources I have used, I found Ad Planner to be the most useful and reliable. In a test case done recently, traffic estimates provided by Ad Planner closely matched actual traffic numbers shown by Google Analytics. Granted that there were significant variations in some months; however, upon taking the average of metrics provided over a seven-month period, the variation was less than the acceptable 5-10% range. Ad Planner gives information such as unique visitors, visits, page views, time spent per visit; if you are looking to run an international campaign, you could get the data from specific countries as well.

Note, however, that data is not available for all websites. This is most likely for sites that fall below a certain traffic threshold, though the threshold itself is not very high as I have seen data for sites with less than 15000 visitors per month. It could also be that some sites have opted-out of having numbers reported by Ad Planner (I haven’t verified that such an option is available).

b) Use “managed placements” in the Google Adwords network: This might involve running a trial campaign using Google Adwords to get some reasonable pointers to traffic you can expect from a site. You could, of course, go through the process of setting up a ‘managed placements’ campaign without actually running the campaign, which will give you estimated impressions on some of the sites that you are targeting. However I find the range to be too large and therefore, I would only use that as a starting point to finalizing the sites I really want to target as part of the campaign. I’d suggest shortlisting sites based on the range provided, and then run a pilot campaign targeting those sites to get a more accurate idea of the traffic that the sites attract to firm up your media plan.

Are there any other reliable third-party tools- free or inexpensive- that you can use for either media planning purposes or competitive analysis? Share your thoughts and/or experiences with such tools.

- Manoj Aravindakshan

Manoj is a Singapore based SEO & online marketing consultant and Director of On Target Media.