Originally published in the August 1998 issue of The Silicon Alley Reporter

Even though the Internet is clearly the most measurable and accountable advertising medium ever created, it suffers from a level of scrutiny that seems, frankly, unfair. What other medium can provide real-time statistics showing the number of viewers and their interest level determined by behavior? Heck, to even get feedback from print or TV is like pulling teeth (think: reader service cards, 800 numbers, and random samples versus forms, behavior and email). When was the last time you were served up a custom print ad based on your age, gender or the number of times you’d already seen that particular ad?

“Measurement and the ability to track users from the banner to conversion, is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on agencies when clients — especially ecommerce ones — want positive ROI campaigns from their launch,” says James Healy, president of interactive agency IN2. “You don’t get this in print or television, where response tracking is nowhere near what the Web offers.”

Luckily, the problem of accountability has created an abundance of software and service companies looking to solve the problem and become the Nelson, Arbitron, ABC, or BPA for the Web.
On one front, the software companies like NetGravity, Accipiter, and AdKnowledge are creating systems to track, manage and report on the performance of Websites. Ad management software is so popular that Netscape has started incorporating features into their product line. These services aim to help media buyers maximize their clients’ advertising budgets while simultaneously allowing Websites owners to maximize their ad inventories.

“Several measurement issues are holding back the marketplace, the resolution of which would move the industry. The measurement of brand impact versus click response being the first,” says Chris Evans, CEO of Accipiter.

With so many options open to online advertisers, the medium’s strengths have created a potentially confusing and time-consuming process for ad buyers, i-agencies and advertisers. The ultimate goal of ad management software is to make the process of spending money on advertising easy – no small feat.

On the second front, online traffic auditor i/Pro, which recently purchased its biggest rival NetCount, is validating every ad-related number. For fees starting at $750 per month, i/Pro provides sites with a golden seal of approval. The company claims that 80 percent of advertising revenues on the Web are garnered by sites that use their services.

Michelle McMahon of Smithsonian Magazine Online has been using i/Pro since the Fall of ’97 when their previous auditor, Netcount, was acquired by i/Pro. “Their service has been quite good… tech support is fantastic,” she says. But, does it help in selling ads? “Not really,” according to McMahon, but, “if we didn’t have it, that might deter advertisers.” Smithsonian Magazine Online receives over 100,000 page views per month, is breaking even, and helps market the print magazine, which is profitable according to McMahon.

If it were not for the billions of advertising dollars at stake, perhaps conspiracy theories wouldn’t spring to mind so easily. With all the media outlets that are threatened by the cost-per-click, cost-per-sale, and cost-per-lead models, it makes one wonder if a conspiracy, conscious or unconscious, is at work.