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Does Glenn Hansen have a death wish?

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In a recent article in Media Business magazine, Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of BPA (the dominant auditor of controlled circulation media) said this about his organization’s website auditing service:

“Our numbers are going to be lower than any other numbers that you get from any other source, whether Google or any commercial Web-analytics company.”

Add some coal-tar?

Add some coal-tar?

It’s impossible to tell from the article, but I infer that he was proud of this.

Several years ago – the last time I seriously looked into auditing websites – my research told me that I could expect a 50% drop in reportable traffic by doing a BPA web audit. At the time, my company was  using an analytics tool that, when implemented, had already cut traffic 33% by weeding out search engine spiders.

In the end, I didn’t need the BPA audit, and I sold around the numbers delivered by our analytics system by focusing on products that gave customers what they were asking for: guaranteed impressions, delivery of clickthroughs, and various levels of leads. When we did these things, the prospects didn’t worry if we had the largest or busiest website.

I’ve previously written about BPA’s lack of contact with the reality of its members; and about why audited circulations continue to shrink.

It’s natural that BPA, like any auditor, would seek to extend its product line by pushing website audits. But  boasting about the great difference between BPA’s traffic measurement and those of other analytic systems demonstrates that BPA is as far away as ever from understanding the grim future that it faces.

The problem BPA members are having is that an audit – whether it’s for a print product or a website – addresses advertiser questions that are now obsolete. Not all advertisers have figured this out yet, but the number that has is growing. A recession hastens the education process, as marketers are forced to coax more measurable impact out of a reduced spend.

An audit is testimony to the nature of a media outlet’s audience: it’s size, the sources from which it was recruited, and any additional information that members of the audience themselves volunteer to offer.

That’s not what advertisers want – or ever really wanted. What they really want is a measured response to their marketing activities. The audit always fell short of that goal. Whether any of us knew it, the circulation audit was just a long-term stop-gap – an alternative set of metrics until technology created a way for the desired metrics to be used.

Today that technology exists. It’s called the Internet, and advertisers (if you haven’t heard) are swarming to it.

BPA hopes to secure some kind of future for itself by pushing website audit services. But those services aren’t necessary, because advertisers can get all the measurement they want with intelligent programs that generate clickthroughs and other direct responses. And unlike audits, which provide a snapshot that is 6 to 12 months old, clickthroughs and leads arrive in real time. Within 30 days, an average marketer can tell if he or she is getting an adequate return from a specific program.

Worse, not only is BPA measuring the wrong stuff in its website audits, it’s bragging that the numbers members will be compelled to report are well below the numbers that non-members get to use.

To summarize: It provides undesirable information that people don’t need. I can’t help comparing it to Burger King putting a dollop of coal-tar on it’s bacon triple cheeseburger.

If there is ROI in this for the publisher, will somebody please help me understand?

I don’t know why anyone bothers with a BPA website audit; if I were a buyer, it would be an immediate sign to me that the website’s owners are slow to understand or respond to the customers’ changing needs. The best thing a BPA web audit could tell me is to look elsewhere.

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

Comments

  1. fred4945  December 7, 2009

    You know, Bob, I find your post ironic.

    I cut my teeth in a call center which did a significant portion of the telemarketing for your fine publications. (To those not in the business, magazines use telemarketing to obtain many or most of the reader requests verified in the BPA audits which Bob attacks).

    The call center received the same simple directive every audit cycle: Your publisher wanted to maintain the numbers of requests and they didn’t care how the telemarketer got them. BPA has a strict rule: if a set percentage of the telemarketed requests are unverifiable, all the telemarketing orders are rejected and the audit fails (publisher’s BPA statement must be restated without the telemarketed orders). It is my understanding that your company had to deal with that problem more than once.

    Therefore, I find your bemoaning of BPA’s reliability to be a tad less than credible.

    As to the internet being the answer to a marketer’s search for “measured response”, give me a break. It may fit your needs, but it doesn’t solve the advertiser’s bottom line — which is measured SALES (i.e. “How many sales do I get from this ad purchase?).

    The prime reason online is such a small percentage of a B2B media house’s revenue is the fact that “clickthroughs” or “pages seen” or even raw leads translate so poorly into sales.

    For instance, a manufacturer of semiconductor fabrication equipment does not know whether those “clickthroughs” represent high-tech manufacturing customers or a bunch of 18 year-olds doing a term paper. If the leads are in the form of emails, the chaff far outnumbers the wheat (able and motivated buyers).

    Let’s compare your Chicken Little prophecy with measured fact: This summer, FOLIO Magazine polled B2B media CEOs about their 2009 revenue. Their responses showed that over half is still from print advertising. No other revenue stream was above 15% — and online revenue was a distant third (barely 10%, as I recall).

    Bottom line: your gripe with BPA’s website audits isn’t that they’re slow, or that they’re inaccurate. Your worry is that the audits might well show advertisers how much of claimed website readership is either not relevant or not there.

    To that extent, it seems BPA’s tendency to frustrate your “creative” circulation management is no different regarding online than in print.

    Frustrating “creativity” is what audit bureaus are there for.

    reply
  2. rgrosenbaum  December 8, 2009

    Fred,
    Thank you for posting. A couple points:
    1) I don’t work for any B2B publisher now, and am not speaking on behalf of any B2B publisher.
    2) The basis of my argument here isn’t that audits are either inaccurate or slow. It’s that they’re becoming obsolete.
    3) I wholly agree with you that a large layer of website traffic is irrelevant to the advertiser. That’s the point of paying for direct response rather than banner advertising (which behaves much like print display advertising).
    There is a spectrum of response that advertisers can purchase.
    + Impressions: lowest cost, most waste
    + Clickthroughs: higher cost, less waste
    + Leads: Highest cost, least waste.
    Those who purchase at the low end of the spectrum would be served by the information a BPA audit provides. But the number of such advertisers continues to decline.
    Those who buy at the higher end of the spectrum don’t pay for unnecessary traffic, so they don’t mind it.
    4) Your frustration with publishers’ directives is well founded. I would, however, defend myself and many others (but not all) against broad brush strokes on the point. Often as not, efforts to push BPA are not about trying to cheat; they’re about trying to respond positively to the voice of the customer.
    I appreciate your comments and hope you don’t take this response as argumentative.

    reply

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