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Web Traffic & Audience Share

Audience share is the portion of a group that an advertiser has an interest in and that actually receive the message.

When it comes to Internet audience share, a prominent statistician examining www traffic responded, "What you are trying to do is like trying to count the stars in the sky."

Traditional Methods

Traditional audience metrics were fairly simple. For instance, a newspaper publisher would count the number of subscriptions to get a basic number of readers. But, what about a newspaper that is delivered to a library? Or, how about a magazine that is delivered to a dentist's office? Because of these types of variables, algorithms were developed to estimate viewership.

Modern Methods

In the realm of traditional media, calculating an ads "reach" became fairly standardized. However, as media became more interactive, calculating audience metrics became much more complex. In fact, it may be fraudulant for a business to represent that it can provide audience share numbers, advertising metrics, Internet traffic statistics or any other "eyeball" counts.

Like Counting The Stars

At best, a rough estimate of advertising effectiveness can be provided for a website's traffic. The similarities to the "counting stars" example can shed some light on counting a webpage's viewers.

Q: How many stars can an observer count in the sky?
A: It depends.

It depends on many variables. What time of day is it? What are the atmospheric conditions? How is the observer's eyesight? Is the moon full or new? Will the observer use their naked eye?

If it can be agreed that the observer will go outside on the darkest and clearest night, it still is not possible for a human to count that high. Therefore, a procedure for estimating must be established. No matter how thorough a procedure is adopted, an exact count is not feasible.

The same principles holds true for counting a website's "hits."

Aliens From The Stars

When you talk about counting stars, the terms are usually familiar to most people -- atmosphere, clouds, light, telescope, etc. When you talk about counting hits, the terms become much more alien -- robots, crawlers, spiders, proxy servers, cookies, caches and Google. It is enough to boggle the mind. Without a clear understanding of how the web works, counting hits is like counting stars on a cloudy night.

Mad Robots

Way back in 1995 one of the world's first websites was shut down by a freak of nature. The physicist and computer expert that was consulted explained it was a mad robot. A mad robot? What is a robot and what is it angry about? His reply, "No. Not an angry robot. Rather, a robot that is out of control. Whomever is responsible for that robot needs to put it on a leash."

A robot is a computer program that searches the world wide web for files. Variations of robots are also known as crawlers or spiders. People, or companies, run a program that crawls the web like a spider looking for content. In this case, the robot was out-of-control and kept calling for file after file until it shut the server down. On the surface, it looked like a million people were all descending on the website like a hoard of locusts. Quite to the contrary, the millions of hits were all being registered by a robot. Not a single eyeball had viewed a webpage.

This is just one small example of how difficult counting hits can be.

The Hit List

The following is an abbreviated list of terms that need to be understood before trying to measure a website's traffic:

Does Counting Hits Count?

Given the complexity of counting hits, is there any value in attempting to measure traffic? Yes. There can be some merit to audience metrics. A highly trained team can draw some conclusions from a traffic analysis. However, the value has less to do with "sales" then it has to do with "savings". The mad robot is an example. By studying the traffic created by the mad robot, it could be shut down. By shutting down the mad robot, more real "eyeballs" could reach the site. In the process, a huge cost savings was realized through reduced bandwidth and hardware.

On the other hand, the best method for determining hits isn't counting the number of files pulled from a server. The best method for measuring hits is an advertisement's effectiveness.

That is the beauty of the world wide web. Unlike traditional media, the web is an interactive medium. That interactiveness is much easier to measure and results in increased business.

Conclusion

If the interest is in sales, the audience share that a website posses is much less important than the effectiveness of the site. So, if you want to register lots of hits to a website, just put up some pictures of naked people. If you want to increase the effectiveness of a website, forget about the number of hits and find a knowledge based team to help you improve sales.

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