Your Guide To A Minefield: Online News Measurement Explained

Counting people can be a bitch – especially when so much is at stake. This month, any one of four sites could be the UK’s top online newspaper, depending who you listen to – and competing results can vary by millions of users. Not good enough, not for a business that needs to convince advertisers of bang-for-buck. What’s an ad buyer to do? I talked to each of the key online measurement agencies to learn how they do their job. Check our handy print-and-keep guide and decide for yourself who to believe…

ABCe (April ’08 top:, 18.64 million unique users): Audits unique users recorded in server data supplied by publishers themselves, using guidelines implemented under IFABC by independent web measurement agency Jicwebs. Says such “unique users” tracking, which relies on IP addresses, is susceptible to ISPs using dynamic IP allocation or proxy gateways. It also includes shared locations like cafes, colleges and airports so may count some users multiple times.

Nielsen (April ’08 top:, 3 million unique users): Counts only UK unique users, aged over two, using a panel of over 40,000, recruited from a mixture of online polling and random-digit phone dialling. Counts only those at home or work, and not those at shared locations. Nielsen says its panel interview method can show up fewer users than actual server data, because servers will double-count users who delete their cookies and those who log on from multiple locations like work and home.

comScore (April ’08 top: Sun Online, 4.23 million unique users): MediaMetrix measures unique users aged 15 and over using computers at home or work. It monitors browsing behaviour of over two million users in 171 countries using tracking software given in return for free downloads, antivirus software etc. comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) then applies what it calls “numerous weighting and enumeration processes” to abstract its findings to the overall internet population – though it didn’t elaborate (more on methodology). Nielsen argues comScore’s online-only profiling, and that age limit, skews its results toward older teenagers.

Hitwise (April ’08 top: Mail Online, 5.06 percent share of print news sites): Unlike the other three, Hitwise reports market share of visits, rather than unique users. The difference – a single user can make multiple visits to a site. Hitwise logs hits from traffic data supplied by ISPs counting eight million UK customers. It excludes international traffic and includes hits from home, work, educational and public-access computers. Probably the least cited measurer, Hitwise stats were used by in its 2006 “most visited quality newspaper website” campaign – a campaign that wrankled with The Guardian but was upheld by ad watchdogs because visits isn’t an invalid metric, it’s just a different metric from users.

See the variations for yourself, after the jump…

ABCe (April ’08)

1. (exc. jobs): 18,646,112 (+9.45pc) (66.1pc overseas)
2. (exc. jobs): 18,546,017 (-0.84pc) (58.1pc overseas)
3. Mail Online: 18,039,943 (70pc overseas)
4. Sun Online: 14,068,523 (+2pc) (60.7pc overseas)
5. Times Online (exc. jobs): 15,406,254 (-4.2pc) (63.4pc overseas)
6. Mirror Group Digital (inc 14 sites): 4,277,502 (-2.86pc) (40.6pc overseas)

Nielsen (April ’08)

comScore (April ’08)

Hitwise (April ’08)