ONLINE ADVERTISING AUDITS
CONSORTIUM SETTING STANDARDS TO MEASURE AG ADVERTISING ON THE WEB
Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
Knowing that farmer usage of the Internet continues to rise is reassuring for agribusiness companies advertising online. But how can these marketers be confident that their Internet ads are reaching their target audience? A newly formed coalition is hard at work setting consistent standards to measure farm-oriented advertising.
The Agribusiness Internet Advertising Council (AIAC) is a consortium of media firms, Web companies, agencies and advertisers. The group first gathered in May to explore issues involved in creating a voluntary measurement system for agribusiness Web advertising. AIAC's mission is "to be the catalyst for the standardization of terminology, metrics, methodology and education for Internet advertising in agribusiness."
"Consistent, acknowledged standards on Web audience measurement will help advertisers assess what they are buying," says Irene Hindman, AIAC director and vice president of media services for Bader Rutter & Associates Inc., Brookfield, Wis. "Such standards will put Web-based media on a level playing field with other advertising vehicles."
WHO'S ON LINE
Knowing how many farmers are online is crucial to companies that advertise to farmers. Hindman points out that a recent review of major public and private databases reveals a 30 percent to 52 percent range of Internet penetration among farms with 500 or more acres - a key target for suppliers. According to the research, roughly 40 percent to 45 percent of American households have Internet access, while the comparable figure for all U.S. farms is 30 percent.
"The Web represents a powerfully interactive but still developing tool to reach farmers," Hindman says, drawing a comparison to the early days of cable television when networks were slow to prove they had viewers.
She notes that marketers look at several key factors when evaluating any advertising medium. "Web information services or e-commerce sites will eventually have to follow the same rules as magazines, radio and television, and billboard outlets," Hindman explains.
"Marketers need to know what percentage of their audience uses the medium, as well as overall audience composition and cost of reaching those people on a per-thousand basis, among other important factors," she continues. "That's where AIAC's efforts will help."
TALKING THE TALK
One key area AIAC is addressing is terminology. "We are trying to come up with accepted terminology to be embraced across all ag Web sites," says Jim McGough, business manager for Successful Farming's @griculture Online - (www.agriculture.com) and a volunteer in AIAC's education area. "If we come to an agreement on what the terms should be, it will make everyone's job easier."
For instance, the term "hit" has different definitions. For some, it means the summation of the number of files presented to a site visitor from a single request. Often there are multiple files on what is considered to be "one page." Other sites count each page (the combination of one or more files from a single request) the visitor views on a site as a separate hit.
"Click" is another term that needs better definition. To most people it means that a user took the action of "clicking" on a banner or hypertext link. However, nothing guarantees he or she went to the targeted URL. There may be a number of reasons why a user was not successfully transferred to the requested Web site as a result of that action. Agreement on terms such as "ad click," "clickthrough" and others will make comparison of Web site data easier for the ad buyer, McGough notes.
Hindman points out that once AIAC agrees upon terminology and meaning, it is important to educate everyone involved in selling and buying online ag advertising. "We are in the process of trying to create a formal arrangement with the National Agri-Marketing Association," McGough says. "Our goal is for AIAC to become a council within the organization to give us more resources and exposure to better educate members."
AIAC is working to create an independent bureau to measure ag Web use and set consistent standards for measuring audiences. "We've endorsed voluntary, third-party auditing of all Web sites selling advertising to agribusiness," Hindman says. "This was a big step on the way to meeting our goal of having AIAC accreditation of Internet sites."
Industry standards for farm Web site measurement would focus on content sites that sell advertising, not those doing solely e-commerce, she notes. Standards will apply to banner ads on ag-related sites as well as ads appearing in email newsletters.
At its meeting in June, AIAC members heard presentations from potential auditor companies as well as from firms offering ratings services. "We'll tackle the ratings issue in due time," Hindman says, noting that setting up farmer panels and tracking Internet usage is more expensive than auditing individual site use.
AIAC hopes to roll out national measurement standards by 2001. "Standardized industry data collected by an independent, third-party reporting system would increase marketer confidence in the medium," Hindman says. "For instance, if advertisers purchase 100,000 page views, the auditors would make sure they get it. Having standards would bring accountability to Web advertising."
McGough adds that measurement will allow Web sites to benchmark themselves and allow advertisers to compare one site to another. "The more information we have and the more rich that data is, the better position we are in as sellers and buyers of Web advertising."
AIAC members were scheduled to meet in mid-September to discuss how the organization will be structured as an association, obtain estimates for measurement, launch publicity efforts and explore a Web site design.
AIAC invites anyone who shares in its goals to get involved. For more information, contact Irene Hindman at 262/784-7200 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.