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.”
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.
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.