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Report Uncovers Tricks and Cheats of Online Audience Measurement

17 Mar 2011

Website publishers are inflating their audience figures and misleading media buyers by double counting page views, counting pages before they load and counting pop-ups, according to a new report released by the Audit Bureaux of Australia (ABA).


The report shines the light on some of the common pitfalls and measurement mistakes uncovered by the audit process since the launch of the ABA Web Audit and Digital Watchdog Committee in mid 2009.


Among the tricks uncovered in the report is the practice of double counting page impressions or views through the use of a second tracking tag to boost audience figures.


"The most common method to measure website traffic in Australia is through tracking tags installed on each web page. By simply placing an extra tag on each page, publishers can count their page views twice and claim an unfair advantage over their competitors," said Paul Dovas, CEO of the ABA.


The report reveals website publishers are also over-representing their traffic by counting pop-ups for their website and counting pages before they finish loading by placing the tracking tag at the top of the page instead of the bottom.


Mr Dovas said the latter represented a breach of industry measurement rules as the page was being counted even though users may choose to shutdown the browser before it finishes loading.


The report also draws attention to the ongoing practice of auto-refreshing pages and the risk this poses to online advertisers and media buyers.


One of the more publicised cheats for inflating website traffic, auto-refreshing refers to the practice of automatically reloading web pages at regular intervals, regardless of whether the page is being actively viewed by the user.


"This practice has been found to significantly inflate key audience metrics, including page views and session times. As a result, media buyers are spending money on display ads that are going unseen on background browser tabs and even unattended computers," said Mr Dovas.


Mr Dovas said although more than 200 leading Australian sites had verified they are not using auto-refresh, there were still some sites continuing the practice and putting advertisers at risk.


Publishers are also counting website traffic from invalid sources, including syndicated content on external sites and non-human traffic such as spiders and bots, according to the ABA report.


Mr Dovas said the aim of the report was to both help media buyers and advertisers understand the risks and educate website publishers who may be inadvertently inflating their audience figures.


He said the easiest way to identify credible website publishers was to look for the ABA green tick, which verifies a website has been through the ABA's rigorous and independent web audit process.


The complete ABA Digital Watchdog Report has been published on the ABA website at www.auditbureau.org.au


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