Sep 02, 2008, 05:47AM

Black Arts

Advertising revenue is the lifeblood of any media organization, but the business models and accounting methods that worked in print haven't yet been transferred to the online world. On the web counting viewers determines revenue, and it's a process that remains something of a black art. In this increasingly competative media environment, how media properties count eyeballs is crucial to the survival of your favorite content, so be careful of sites that might be cheating.

There is a fairly popular commercial website I heard about this week that has a novel way of making sure its ad revenue numbers are met. This site has its own ad sales team selling display space bringing in tens of millions of dollars per year in revenue. It is a good site and grandly profitable, but if for some reason revenue dips below target a little code kicks in and starts refreshing particular pages every 90 seconds, generating each time a new "hit" on that page's banner. The refreshes are tied directly to revenue and nothing else and it seems to me that what's happening is, well, theft.

Here's how these bozos can get away with a stunt like this. First, advertisers often don't really want to know the success of their ad campaigns to a fine level of granularity. They'd rather keep the ad game a sort of dark art because, frankly, they pretty much don't know what the heck they are doing anyway and ad buying is done by the lowest-level agency employees when it properly should be done by the highest. So if something is wrong they'd really rather not know about it, thanks. The second reason why this kind of stunt goes unpunished is because it doesn't happen all the time. The site generally provides good content and good service and they only kick in this little script when absolutely needed. So if a lot of people seem to be clicking on ads but few are actually buying, well it comes back to that black art, doesn't it? And finally, the Internet isn't as sophisticated an ad space yet as are magazines, for example, where the Audit Bureau of Circulations does a pretty good job of keeping track of how many people actually read ads. The Internet, though some would claim otherwise, doesn't really have a comparable operation to the ABC, but it probably should.


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