Internet Ad Spend will Overtake TV Spend in …. Yawn.

A couple of months ago, the same data from the PWC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook popped-up a couple of times in my Twitter feed. I meant to write about it then but I’ve got around to it now as part of my BEWA plan.

The most re-tweeted factoid stated that, “By 2018, Internet advertising will be poised to overtake TV as the largest advertising segment” and concluded with the line “We are approaching a major tipping point in the advertising universe“.

I’ve made a career out of Internet advertising for more than 17 years. I delivered my first online ad a couple of years earlier as an online companion to a traditional radio spot. When we first started these kinds of comparisons were helpful, not only to reassure us that we’d made the right career choice, but also to convince our bosses that this really was a growing market and they might help us by employing another person to help us figure out what to do.

As an industry we were pleased when online ad-spend eclipsed various forms of print, billboards and even those radio ads I’d spent years working with.  I acknowledge it’s an interesting barometer and makes for some nice graphs for somebody’s next ‘speaking opportunity’.

But, today, comparing the vast opportunities of ‘Internet Advertising’ as a single place of ad-spend while breaking down ‘offline’ spend into it’s component segments doesn’t feel right to me. The IAB (using US-centric data) tells us that, in 2013, 43% of Internet advertising spend was search. Classifieds make-up 6% of the Internet spend. There seems very little point in comparing these numbers to television.

(Much more significant for TV is the kind of spend-shift outlined in a Bloomberg piece about Nike, but that’s for another day).

Surely, it’s connected vs non-connected advertising. The tipping point is coming but it’s not when Internet spend passes TV spend. It’s when spending on connected advertising surpasses non-connected advertising.

Footnotes

I don’t have access to the whole PWC Outlook which may very well put these numbers into a more subtle context that 140 characters can not convey.

My BEWA project resulted in a post about one of the stars of the the Australian television show Neighbours; an entry about writing the perfect technology RFP that allows companies to better work with you; a follow-up post about better user design and this about internet (or connected) advertising figures. Place your bets on if there will be a post next Wednesday,

 

What Is An Ad Impression?

Lots of publishers I have spoken to get a little confused when their ad impressions counts are different to their page impressions. So my goal here is to try and identify the common reasons for the differences. The fact that advertising systems counts ads not pages is the first key difference.

The other day, I wrote – what I thought was – a handy guide to the  basic web measurement concepts of  page impression, visit and unique user metrics. Haven’t read it? Please do so before reading this one.

Back? This time I’m going to talk about a new impression metric that is often confused with the measurements I spoke about last time: the ad impression. To those of us in the digital advertising tech business the ad impression is our measure of scale and value for a website. However, our measurement counts advertisements and not most of those other things that I talked about last time.

How do they differ then?

Last time I noted that a page impression was counted every time somebody viewed a page of web content. That page, however, may have three or four (and often, many more) advertisements on it. Our industry, therefore, counts the number of times advertisements are shown. So, one page impression may be one ad impression but it may also be three ad impressions depending on the number of advertisement spaces a publisher has built into their pages. It’s important not to confuse them as these impressions are very different.

Lots of publishers I have spoken to get a little confused when their ad impressions counts are different to their page impressions. So my goal here is to try and identify the common reasons for the differences.  The fact that advertising systems count ads not pages is the first key difference.

Secondly, the advertising system will only count an advertisement impression when it is asked, by the browser, for the ad. It is not inconceivable that the advertisement system may not get the request for the ad and, therefore not count it (if the ad system is broken, or if it is slow, then the user may not wait around for the ad). Result: the page impression is counted but not the ad impression(s).

Thirdly, advertising systems try not to count robots, spiders and other automated web systems that make the web work for us but do not represent a human actually looking at an advertisement. After all, a computer is not really in a position to buy a new car.  I noted last time that when counting page impressions then those things should not be counted either. However, if the system measuring your pages is configured with a different list of what is – and what is not – a web robot then some pages may be counted when the advertising system might not count – or vice versa. Ideally, vendors of both systems would be using the same list but, sometimes and for many different reasons, they can’t. So the result is that a page counting system may not quite be counting the same people that an advertising system may be counting. The main thing here is that this is OK.  The systems have different counts because they look at different things. You know sometimes there are apples and sometimes oranges.

The next reason for the difference is simply to do with the way websites are set up. Many sites do not put advertisements on every page on their site. It may sound obvious but, if there is no advertisement placed in the page, it’s never going to count as an ad impression.  I once spent a day trawling through the data for a very large, well-staffed, UK website to help explain differences in page and ad impression counts and I discovered hundreds of pages that contained no ads. The site had sprawled and their site management systems were simply not inserting all the right codes. The clever coders and designers who build websites sometimes miss this. There’s a whole other post about how, if your site is ad-funded, advertising should be part of the design process – but I digress.

Ask your web development team to look at all the places where there are advertisements on your site but they don’t call the ad-server to deliver them. This is often referred to as ‘hard coding’ because the advertisement code is hard-wired directly into the web page rather than designed to ask the ad-server to select an ad. This is a very common cause of differences between website page counts and ad impression counts. It’s often done because the ‘hard wired’ ad will be around for a long time the publisher does not want to pay the ad-serving company to continually select exactly the same advertising copy in exactly the same space. But, as with our examples above, if the ad-server is not asked to select the advertisement it can’t do its job and count it.

It’s worth pointing out that sometimes the ad-server appears to be asked for lots of advertisements and, even when accounting for multiple ads on a single page, the number looks too high. Here it’s worth checking that the ad-server code is correct on the page. Because ad-server code tries to do clever things to account for the many ways in which people view your site (with multiple browsers that support different standards) then incorrectly formatted code may ask for several advertisements when only one is displayed. The result is too high counts because the ad-server is unable to determine exactly which one will be displayed so assumes they are all valid. This is one for your coding team.

Also in the ‘too many ads counted’ category is the fact that you must be comparing the same site boundaries. Is your ad technology serving advertisements into other places? If it is, then we must ask if the code on those ‘other’ places is  correct or is telling the ad-server that the request is coming from somewhere else. Most ad-servers rely on the code on the page, the ad-request, to know where the ad is being delivered to. If your request is telling the system it should be selecting an advertisement for Site A but it is, in reality, Site B then the ad system may assign the count to the wrong site (worse, it will also select an advertisement that may not really be valid for Site B).  Is the right code in the right place?

Finally, there are a couple of other reasons that add to the differences. Some people actively block advertisements using special software in their browser. If they do then the advertising system won’t count them. Some ad systems  also try to track suspicious behaviour (such as people clicking lots of times on advertisements trying to inflate the click-rate to make the site look better or generate additional revenue). If such browsers are detected then they are often blocked and removed from the advertising counts while they may not be removed from the page counts. Again, it’s valid because we’re looking at website traffic and audiences from different perspectives.

You also need to take into account the time is takes the advertisement to be served. Advertisers generally prefer that ads are counted when the entire piece of copy or creative is delivered. If it’s one of those rich, interactive, animations it could be taking longer than you imagine for all the file to be delivered. If the count happens once all content is delivered to the user’s browser then your ad-system may not be counting the ad for a short period after the ad looks like it’s been shown. This is one to check with your ad-server technology vendor. When do they initiate the count?

Thus, your web analytics and your ad-impression counts may differ for valid reasons. The key is to ensure that, if you rely on advertising to fund your endeavours, you’re giving your advertising system the best change of showing an advertisement in all the places you want them to appear.  Make sure your content control systems are inserting the right codes in all the right places.

In summary, if you’re doing all the checks and you’re content systems are inserting the right codes then your advertising system is doing the best job it can to count the advertisements for you. If it gives you a different number then you shouldn’t worry too much – there’s an acceptable difference that you can work with.

Update: it’s taken me over two years to write one of the pieces I suggest above: the one about if advertising is central to your offering then you need to think about it in the design process. Read Get Your Product Right Or Get In The Liferaft for some insights there.

What Are Page Impressions?

For anybody who works with web-based content then the ‘impression’ is a very important metric. It used to be the world talked about ‘hits’ but I think we’ve moved on from that: it being the least descriptive and most open to abuse metric upon which we measure successful web content.

For anybody who works with web-based content then the ‘impression’ is a very important metric.   It used to be the world talked about ‘hits’ but I think we’ve moved on from that: it being the least descriptive and most open to abuse metric upon which we measure successful web content.

So, if you are a publisher of web content impressions are important.  Essentially, every page somebody views (and it really should be a somebody and not a web crawler, spider or robot) is counted. The total number of page impressions is one measure of the popularity of your website.  Lovely.  Such counts help websites understand what’s popular and what’s not and help them refine what they do.

As the boffins who look at all this data got smarter and as web analytics became big business people acknowledged there were other metrics. The number of pages read is not always a good indicator of success. Is it a million pages read by one person or by a million people only reading a single page? Analytics progressed to give us visits and sessions. These ‘smarter’ metrics understood if individual browsers looked at more than one page and over what period of time. If I read 5 pages in the morning, that was 5 impressions and 1 visit. 10 more pages on your site in the evening was another visit and another 10 impressions but, crucially, I was one unique user.

Ooops, I just threw in another metric. Sites needed to get better at understanding all these impressions and visits because, while nice, numbers didn’t tell them much about their audience. So, unique users became important because it told sites how many people come to their site. From that sites can understand how many visits users make and how those visits end up being all those lovely page impressions.  It’s like a TV company telling us how many people watched Friends last night. It’s nice to know.

But, generally, websites don’t know who you are (unless they are one of those that let you create a user name and log in).  So they started to use cookies to identify your browser. That statement is actually quite important. Sites don’t know who you are they just assign a unique number to your browser to help them better understand all these unique users. Importantly, if you delete your cookies – or sometimes use another web browser – then they don’t know that you’ve done that and those actions can inflate the numbers for the site. Still, TV and radio are measured by small samples of people filling in diaries so all systems have some margin of error and cookie deletion is generally understood, accounted for and accepted.

So, why am I talking about all these web analytic terms? Well, that’s for two reasons.

Firstly, any website that sells advertising needs to tell advertisers approximately how many people will see the advertisement. They do not want the scenario that allows one person to have seen all one million of their advertisements. With apologies to my friends in advertising agencies, let’s say that Advertisers tend to like a range of people to see their messages. These measurements are great for helping sites understand audiences.

As a side note, sites generally like these numbers to be as big as possible because it makes them look good. They have a range of tactics to make the number look as big as possible (such as automatically refreshing the page – or part of the page – to make it look like there was another impression).  Properly managed websites who sell to big advertisers tend to have their numbers audited by companies like ABCE.  ABCE, if you like, helps advertising agencies know that the sites aren’t lying about these impressions, visits and unique users.

Secondly, I am trying to place these terms in context ahead of the next piece I am writing about another important metric to those websites: the ad impression. But that’s for another day.

Whenever you’re working with a site that starts quoting impressions, visits and unique users it’s worth asking how they were collated and are they audited. Are the numbers for the specific site in question or for a ‘network’ or collection of sites owned by the same publisher?  Is the publisher using auto-refresh to inflate the numbers and are those numbers both collected and audited by reputable experts in this field? (It is worth noting that auditing can be expensive for small sites but you do need to understand how they have come up with the numbers and you should try to get an understanding of both the number of pages viewed and the number of users that make up those views).

I must caveat this with the notice that I am not a web analytics expert. Such folks will be able to explain the nuances of these measurements in more detail but, think of this as a handy cheat sheet so that you’re not impressed by somebody who talks about their large number of page impressions and then doesn’t put them into context for you.

If you like, I’m performing a public service.

Update: The second part of this mini-series about ad-impressions is now on the site.

I Found Some Of Your Life

Interesting site with somebody’s photographs.

Alright, it might be months old but I never mentioned it!

I Found Some Of Your Life: In my possession is one memory card from a digital camera. This memory card was found in a taxi in New York City. I have no idea who the owner of the camera is.

Fascinating and slightly scary, don’t you think but interesting nonetheless. One of the more interestings possibilities resulting from the rise of digital photographs [via Photo Matt].

Maybe Hewlett-Packard’s “privacy protection system” for cameras would have been useful [via Tom].

It Was A Good Read

While I will miss the disappearances, they are – of course, just blips in the workings of the web. What I find sad is that, in time, it is likely that all this content will disappear from servers as the owners stop paying for the space that houses the sites. It would be like burning every copy of a book you had read – vanished. It’s part of a shared history that disappears.

I always feel it’s a little sad when a blog dies – particularly when all trace of it is removed. If it’s a blog I have been reading for some time then it feels as if a part of my history disappears. It is one of the strange things about the online experience – it’s very easy for things to disappear; things that were once inspirational, useful or entertaining.

One of my earliest online inspirations was Jase Wells. Although I’d been trying out building web pages for the company I worked for, Jase was the inspiration for my first home page (sadly long gone from the servers on which it resided and a great example of what I am talking about). Jase is still alive and well but the focus of his site has changed and, while it’s updated much more often now, the coming out story that was such a useful resource has gone (although it’s still available via archive.org).

Another Jase, now Snoboardr of OutEverywhere, had some personal pages once that were also fairly important in my use of the web.

Then there are the blogs that disappear. Mike of Troubled Diva fame (who I was introduced to via the excellent 40in40) put the blog on indefinite hold at the beginning of December. 8Legs went the same way a few weeks later. And now Chris has packed up. I don’t know Chris nor have I ever mailed or commented his site but I read it almost religiously. Why? Well, he has a talent for writing to the extent that almost everything he wrote was compelling. It was his writing style which was an inspiration because, by the time I discovered his site, I had been writing this blog for a while.

At least Daniel’s said it’s unlikely that he will give up completely.

While I will miss the disappearances, they are – of course, just blips in the workings of the web. What I find sad is that, in time, it is likely that all this content will disappear from servers as the owners stop paying for the space that houses the sites. It would be like burning every copy of a book you had read – vanished. It’s part of a shared history that disappears.

Diary writers perform an unintentional function as social historians. If you go all the way back to Pepys or think more recently of somebody like Kenneth Williams, their diaries are read today and give us an insight into what the world was like. If Mike or Chris has written their blogs as paper-based diaries there may very well have been something for historians to use in the future. If they don’t keep some kind of record of what they wrote in an accessible form then it will be lost to the future and people trying to understand life in the 21st Century will be poorer.

So, to those who wrote content I enjoyed reading, a plea. Archive your content for future generations. Regardless of how you do it, keep it.

Oh, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed them all.

Small Screens Look Good

You know, I am really impressed by the new version of Opera (which has always been a browser I have used).

You know, I am really impressed by the new version of Opera (which has always been a browser I have used). I love many features while others, like the new M2 mail client, I am not too sure about. I think they may have something in the different approach to mail but I may just be too stuck in my emailing ways. Still, if you want to check out how your pages may look on smaller screens (phones, pdas etc.) if the vendor has selected Opera then boot up Opera 7, go to your site and SHIFT F11 for Opera’s small screen rendering. Left is my site as it looked the other day. I think it proved the power of style sheets as the whole thing is still quite browsable (is there such a word) and readable in the reduced format. I may even browse all the web like this!

Dreams of the Downsized

Today I understood how the internet was built up and how it failed to deliver on those dreams for many people. What was sad were the changes that have happened to the online group over the last year. Gone are the product managers, most developers and many of the other staff. They are now much, much smaller than they were.

I went to see a client this morning: nothing too unusual in that fact. It was a client I have worked with over several years – the internet arm of a well-known organisation. Again, nothing too exceptional. Nice chat, coffee and new product overview (from my part). As I had not seen them for a while, I thought it would be nice to go back. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was great to see people there. What was sad were the changes that have happened to the online group over the last year. Gone are the product managers, most developers and many of the other staff. They are now much, much smaller than they were.

Again, nothing to unusual in this but today it struck me as sad. The ideas and the passion, the desire to make something happen and be part of it that all those people had – gone. How many people in so-called new media industries have been through it (some, several times)? I have been through the cut-back mill as people around me are “downsized” in order to allow companies to survive. Yet, today – I think – was the first day the scale of it struck me. I can’t really explain it and I am not sure that I want to try but today I think I understood how the internet was built up and how it failed to deliver on those dreams for many people.

The “why” of it all is a different story for a different day. Today is about the good people who have moved on. Hopefully, they’re doing better.

Ben Affleck In Tight Leather

Ben Affleck in tight leather – why are you looking for those pictures?

Ben Affleck in tight leatherLooking at the referrer logs for this site, a lot of people are getting here thanks to my mention of Ben Affleck in tight leather (I assume in my Daredevil review). If you really want a picture of Ben Affleck in tight leather, go here, here or here.

The official Daredevail site is here. Enjoy

Give Us Our Daily Blog

As I started redeveloping this site, it became apparent that I wanted to link to my collection of daily blog reads and this became the place to keep them.

In common with any page of links, many of the pages noted below have long since moved, closed or cease to be updated in any regular kind of way. Facebook and Twitter have meant some of those who I used to read have moved on to the next way to communicate their thoughts. I keep this here as a nice remineder of the early days of blogging!

As I started redeveloping this site, it became apparent that I wanted to link to my collection of daily blog reads and this became the place to keep them.

The first, almost daily, read is Jase Wells. I guess I have been something of an invisible online stalker to this site for years. I have watched it move, change and develop since sometime in 1994 when I first came across it. It still remains one of the best personal homepages on the web – and I am very pleased to see that he has turned it into a blog.

Next on the list is Tom Coates’ plasticbag.org – which must be one of the best around and, if I am honest, I miss it if he doesn’t post. You will find notsosoft linked from there which, I think, contains some of the best writing on the web.

trabaca, posterboy, eric and contrasts.net provide additional regular reading from the US, while Adam’s photoblog provides stunning pictures on a regular basis. overyourhead is a UK take, while prolific is based in Amsterdam. Haddock blogs is a collection of well-known UK internet names.

Of course, blogsphere is represented well by Metafilter which I try and check out most days.

Other’s of note include Nick Denton and Brendan O’neill for opinions; Scott Andrew, Ben Hammersley and Jason Kottke for web-related stuff and Stuart Towns for his travelogue.

Finally, if you’re not interested in reading the ramblings of people you may never have heard of, then click along to Wil Wheaton’s blog which is a fascinating take on the world of celebrity.

Key

Security on the Internet is a big concern for many people. Keeping information that identifies you personally from falling into the wrong hands is important. Check for secure sites when submitting credit card information, be careful about who you give your email to and read privacy policies. This is all worthy advice.

If you are concerned about sending information (or you want to verify information came from where it says it came from) I would recommend you investigate Pretty Good Privacy. A useful piece of freeware to digitally sign and/or encrypt files (including emails).

PGP uses a system known as public key encryption. As a PGP user you would generate a “key pair” which is made up of both a public and private key. The private key should only be accessible by its owner but in order to share files etc. you need to share your public key (and you would need a copy of another user’s to send files). For mote information see PGP or PGP International.

Occasionally, I use PGP to sign emails or encrypt files. If you wish to email me using PGP my public key is given here.

other resources

Visit PGP and read this message (at PGPI) from Phil Zimmermann who invented PGP.

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My Web

Much of the information below is now well out of date and many of the site are no longer around. Independent Radio News’ site no longer has any of the original code behind it and Satellite Media Services went out of business a long time ago. See ex-sms.com a little bit more about that company. I’m leaving this page up, however, because it remains a valid history of some of the early websites I worked on.

Since I have been online I have been involved in the development of a number of web sites. Nowadays, I do not work for a web development company so many of the sites listed here are not the versions that I was involved in. Some of them have developed well and some seems somewhat stuck and, dare I say, even basic.

In 1994 I was working for Satellite Media Services. During the next two or three years we developed various versions of their web presence, including the online versions of IRN’s news service at The Radio Magazine. Now they have a new web address and much better design but don’t seem to develop sites for others any more.

The Radio Magazine has a new web site that has absolutely nothing to do with me but it still makes good reading about the UK radio industry.

Independent Radio News has also gone through several revamps. I can still see some of the code we developed behind this version of the site, and I suspect, the original audio scripts are still in place. IRON was one of the first sites in the UK to broadcast up-to-date news in RealAudio format.

At the time, Satellite Media Services was partially owned by Capital Radio plc and were responsible for the original prototype of Capital Online. Capital’s web services have moved on dramatically yet remain some of the best entertainment web sites around.

My original personal sites were based on the SMS servers and there remains no trace of them anymore. They were moved to various free space until I placed them here. The original UK Radio Information Pages were also based at SMS. They then moved to Onair before I removed them. James Cridland and the Media UK team do I much better job than I was doing.

SMS, back then, was a satellite audio distribution company. Back in 1994 I used to produce a site featuring a range of photographs of SMS’ satellite dishes which became a something of a cult site for a while (I know, the whole thing was very strange). Media UK also became the host of those pictures but, somewhat wisely, they seem to have removed them.

The next few web sites I was involved in are no longer in existence. Events Online, one of the UK’s first events listings services has long since vanished. It was an idea ahead of its time. For something similar, try Scene One (link now obsolete).

A number of other sites were developed around that time. Fruit Machine is still an idea and I did some of the scripting work behind the original Alternative Holidays site (working with Kevin from Incline Media – one of the best web productions houses around).

The last commercial web development I was involved in was at IPC Magazines (now IPC Media). Yachting and Boating World still has massive amounts of content behind it and, if you have an interest in sailing, why not pay it a visit?

I had great fun working on the development of all these sites. One day, I think I would like to work with content again (rather than software) but for now I am happy to be away from the struggles of generating commercial content.