New measurement system will help online businesses bring in revenue

A new system to measure the popularity of websites will help Middle Eastern online businesses bring in revenue.

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A new system to measure the popularity of websites will help Middle Eastern online businesses bring in revenue, advertisers and industry watchers say. Launched today in Dubai, the Effective Measure system will give advertisers a clearer picture of who is visiting a given website rather than other services, its backers say. "This is a democratic system for websites, and everyone can be included and considered," said Dan Healy, the managing director of Real Opinions, a research company that is launching the service in the Middle East. "No matter how small your audience is, if you are in a niche and reaching the right type of visitor, you will be considered by media buyers."

Most website traffic measurement systems count the number of times a page has been loaded by users, and how many individual users visit the site. But no individual system is used as a standard by all online publishers, meaning there is little reliable data on the relative popularity of sites. The lack of reliable information is a major bottleneck to the growth of online advertising in the region, advertisers and agencies say.

It is one reason why spending on the medium is estimated to be less than US$50 million (Dh183.6m) per year, or less than 1 per cent of total advertising spending. In well developed markets, where internet companies offer independent website traffic monitoring by services such as Nielsen Net Ratings and Google Analytics, the internet accounts for 10 per cent and more of total ad spending. "In the current business environment, it is time for websites to get accountable, to get advertising dollars to work hard and to demonstrate how they are working," said Dimitri Metaxas, the group director of OMD Digital, which is the online unit of Omnicom, one of the world's largest advertising groups. "We wholeheartedly support the new system, because measurement tools like this are a big part of how we will demonstrate this value to our clients."

Website owners need to install a code on their sites to allow Effective Measure to monitor their traffic. The first time that a web user lands on a site running the system, it will request them to complete a short survey. Data from the survey will then be stored on central servers. From then onwards, the user will be recognised by other sites using the system, and matched to the information previously provided. This will let sites not only know how many people are visiting, and from where, but also the demographic background of their visitors, which is highly valuable information for marketers.

The data will also let advertisers view broader trends, such as the overlap between visitors of different sites, and the sites, including their own, that a user visits after viewing a page containing their advertisements. "The depth of demographic information is something new to this medium," said Mr Healy. "I think it will help get advertising buyers on board in a big way." Real Opinions will provide website traffic data free to advertisers, and will charge website owners for use of the system. It will cost US$1,000 (Dh3,673) for the first 12 million times a page is loaded, and $20 for every million additional loads. "It is a low-yield, high-volume model," said Mr Healy.

Although spending on traditional advertising is expected to slow, or even decline, in the coming year, online advertising is expected to increase and take a larger share of the total market. Mr Metaxas said tools such as Effective Measure would accelerate the shift to digital advertising by demonstrating its effectiveness. "There is always somebody that benefits from an economic downturn," he said, "and this time, we seem to be one of them." tgara@thenational.ae