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Are Web Ratings Dangerous To Sites? 54

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-million-different-ways-to-count dept.
Freshly Exhumed writes "For website publishers, a poor web rating can be disastrous. Bad television ratings mean television shows get canceled, bad web ratings mean websites go out of business. For advertisers, accurate web ratings are critical to optimize spending. Inaccurate ratings data means advertisers will overspend on poorly performing sites or not advertise on smaller sites whose numbers are really much higher than reported. In the case of Canadian web site Digital Home, already hit with an advertising boycott by Bell Canada over the site's pro-consumer editorial content, the site's owner is now in danger of ending operations, apparently due to the inaccuracies of ComScore rankings. For example, Google Analytics reported Digital Home served up over 2.7 million page views in January to almost 250,000 unique visitors. A web buyer at one of Canada's largest advertising agencies confirmed that ComScore reported just 32,000 visitors. Added to this is ComScore's secretly-installed spyware troubles."
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Are Web Ratings Dangerous To Sites?

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  • For website publishers, a poor web rating can be disastrous.
    Is Alexa still up?
  • by xero314 (722674) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @08:51PM (#18879115)
    I guess web ratings aren't so bad when all you need to do is bitch about it and then get free advertisement and additional page views by posting on Slashdot. After clicking on three Digital Home pages after following the links in the summary, I realized what a great tactic this really is.
    • by Belakiss (1046318)
      A very good tatic indeed.
      Too bad they don't get a penny for every click through this.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by xero314 (722674)

        Too bad they don't get a penny for every click through this.
        Depends on who you are referring to as "they." Digital Home certainly makes money from each time someone clicks on one of their links on slashdot. Not only does it increase there Web Rating but it also drives revenue from the advertisers on the pages you go to.
    • The issue is that there is a serious credibility gap in web analytics used by advertisers. That's a good issue for Slashdotters to be made aware of. It was better to bring attention to an unjust web site rating system that threatens the viability of a valuable consumer web site (as illustrated by the Bell Canada issue) than to sit idly by and watch it tank. This problematic issue affects the web at large, and knowledge of it is an important tool towards hopefully correcting it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by hmallett (531047)
      I think you're right - large amounts of traffic for little work, even if it isn't targeted. I'd never stoop to that level, especially not for my own site, Backup Exec FAQ [backupexecfaq.com], a user-contributed support site for Symantec Backup Exec [symantec.com]. ;)
  • is there anything else to this story?
    • is there anything else to this story?
      If I persued the Conspiricy theorists line, yes, there is. Is this an attempt for a little guy to take on a much bigger guy?

      Will it work? I think following this story may give us some interesting insight as to how this technique works "in the wild" as it were. But it won't be the first time /. was used as a weapon to take on an opponent.
      • Funny thing about that, is none of the Digital Home articles state that they are in trouble. It's only the summary that makes that assertion.
  • How appropriate (Score:4, Insightful)

    by illectro (697914) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @08:59PM (#18879185)
    That I read this on slashdot - a site who's alexa ratings have been skewed by an audiece who know the potency of the Alexa toolbar. (Look at the alexa graphs for one year ago and you'll see a massive jump in Slashdot, Digg and some other related sites)

    Yes ratings can be hugely misleading, I remember hearing that Om Malik will walk out of any meeting where alexa stats are brought up by marketdroids.
    • by fanpoe (598824)

      Yes ratings can be hugely misleading

      I have an older non-technical site that gets a couple of thousand visits a day and a new web development related site that gets 20 visits a day (if it's lucky). Guess which one has the higher Alexa rank? Yep, the technical one. Only a couple of orders of magnitude out.

  • We need metaraters (Score:4, Insightful)

    by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @08:59PM (#18879199)
    Of course, bad ratings are bad for sites and they should be -- if a site sucks and gets few visitors who are of the right demographic and right frame of mind for click-throughs, then its no surprise that advertisers would want to avoid them. The real issue is badly estimated ratings. If GoogScore claims a bazillion unique visitors when there really was a gajillion, then something is wrong.

    The web advertising ecosystem needs metaraters -- services that determine the quality of ComScore, Google Analytics, et al.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by CriminalNerd (882826)
      The web advertising ecosystem needs metaraters

      Something like /.'s?

      http://www.goatse.cx/

      This website has been rated "Insightful"

      Fair or Unfair? ( )Fair | ( )Unfair
  • Advertising. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m0rph3us0 (549631) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @08:59PM (#18879201)
    It's rare that a business that delivers value to it's customer that exceeds the cost of running the business has money problems. Likely Digital Home mainly gets page views by people who are not likely to convert on seeing the ad (informed consumers tend to fall for the hype) and the same customers don't see the value in subscribing to such a service, or wish to donate.

    How is a television show getting cancelled any different than going out of business anyways?

    A Television show likely employs many more people who will get equally laid off when it is cancelled than Digital Home. How TV generally works is that a production company produces the show and then sells it. This is why you will see shows sometimes move between networks. To insulate the investors a company is usually formed on its own to produce the show. Once the show is cancelled and a new buyer cannot be found the business is generally ended.

    If you can't find a market for your services I'd suggest producing a new service rather than whining about ratings systems. There is a lot of money out there, if there is real value certainly someone will buy it. (Whether via advertising or via subscription)
    • by Qzukk (229616)
      I'd suggest producing a new service

      Or finding a new market, say by selling your service to your subscribers instead of advertisers. Especially if your content is teaching people to see through the crap in ads, which advertisers are obviously not buying.
  • Live by the ComScore (Score:3, Informative)

    by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @09:07PM (#18879253) Homepage Journal

    ... die by the ComScore

    Advertising isn't the only way, and ComScore isn't the only way to do advertising.

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @11:29PM (#18880183) Journal

      Last week, The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced that it had sent a letter to the two companies [comscore and Nielsen//NetRatings] requesting that each company submit to an audit of their web measuring processes due to the huge discrepancies in their numbers.

      The IAB, whose 332 members account for 86 percent of U.S. online advertising spending...
      [Many paragraphs]
      On Monday, comscore responded to the IAB by saying that "comScore's panel methodologies reflect the investment of millions of dollars and years of research and development. We are confident that they will stand the scrutiny of a third-party evaluation or audit."

      Part of the story here is that the metrics being used by these companies are being questioned.
      And possibly the more important aspect is that it isn't just by digital home, but by an organization that can do something about the funny numbers.
  • by 8127972 (73495) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @09:50PM (#18879549)
    How about the fact that Bell not only threatened Digital Home with pulling it's ads because of an article it didn't like, but then doing so? Is that not a bigger issue than how the site is ranked? Let's look at the facts for a sec:

    1. Bell threatened to pull their ads because his article "was having a negative impact on dealer sales."

    2. Digital Home presents that what they said is accurate and is confirmed by multiple sources. Not to mention that this info was public domain.

    3. Bell yanks it's ads.

    It sounds like Bell is ticked that people are going to wait a couple of months before they get a receiver for HDTV from them because they want the latest and greatest. You can't fault the consumer for that.

    If this was happening to the New York Times, we'd be up in arms and this would be under "Your Rights Online" or "Censorship." But somehow this is a story about Comscore. I'm not saying that that aspect of the story doesn't have merit, but there's an equally important issue here that needs to be explored.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ivan256 (17499)

      If this was happening to the New York Times, we'd be up in arms and this would be under "Your Rights Online" or "Censorship."


      Advertisers pull their ads when they don't like the content all the time. Even from the New York Times. Why should Bell be forced to advertise on a site the disapprove of?
    • by jalefkowit (101585) <jason@jasonlefko ... net minus distro> on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @10:16PM (#18879733) Homepage

      If this was happening to the New York Times, we'd be up in arms and this would be under "Your Rights Online" or "Censorship." But somehow this is a story about Comscore. I'm not saying that that aspect of the story doesn't have merit, but there's an equally important issue here that needs to be explored.

      It's not censorship for an advertiser to decide to stop advertising in a particular publication. Advertisers don't have any obligation, legal or moral, to spend their advertising dollars on one publication over another. If the money you were spending on advertising was actually hurting your sales you'd have to be an idiot not to stop, at least until you could determine if the problem was something you could fix rather than something inherent in the publication (like, say, some horrible offensive language in your ad that you could remove or re-word).

      Dealing with issues like this is why most legitimate publications (like the NY Times) maintain a strict separation between the people who do advertising and the people who do editorial content, so that pressure from advertisers can't influence editorial. If an advertiser threatens to walk from the Times, their response is to have their advertising people go beat the bushes for new advertisers, not to stomp their feet about how unfair it is.

    • the purebred slashdotter can only have one outrage at a time, otherwise it will explode : )

      any unsuccessful attempt to introduce a new outrage to a pre-existing one will result in your new outrage dying from lack of nutrition.

      any successful attempt to introduce a new outrage to a pre-existing one will kill off the original.

      this said.. it's in the best interest of outrage preservation that we keep them safe and separate, otherwise peta will douse you with red paint.

  • If web ratings go through, crappy sites might get the axe. That's a whole lot of MySpace pages the world can do without.
  • Disconnect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PingXao (153057) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @11:31PM (#18880195)
    If low web ratings cause sites to go out of business then what's the thinking behind the other front page story that has the EU moving to ban online hate speech? Won't a lack of advertisers cause hate-speech sites to go dark after a short time? There seems to be some sort of disconnect here.

    Oh, wait... I get it. Website ratings are (a) overrated and (b) meaningless when you get right down to it. Only sites that are dedicated to the proposition of making a profit really care about such things as ratings and advertising revenue. Objectionable sites, like those that promote hate-speech, don't care what their ratings are. The tooth fairy must pay their expenses and keep them from going out of business. Of course, that applies also to non-hate sites. Sites that are run out of a love or passion for a specific topic of interest. Sites maintained by enthusiasts or hobbyists who aren't worried about making a profit.

    When you come right down to it you could eliminate every site that carries advertising on the web and I wouldn't notice. And hate-speech sites aren't exactly in my bookmark list either. I think the web would be a better place without advertising of any kind. Hence, my complete lack of remorse for any site that closes down because their ad revenue isn't making the nut. Too bad. I will continue to block all ads that I can.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      When you come right down to it you could eliminate every site that carries advertising on the web and I wouldn't notice.

      Uh? You do realise you posted that comment on a site that carries advertising?
      • by legoboy (39651)
        Face it, this crappy web forum is about seven or eight years past its prime, back before people stopped caring what Slashdot thought because everyone realized it was such an entirely predictable minority opinion.
        • by mollymoo (202721)

          Face it, this crappy web forum is about seven or eight years past its prime, back before people stopped caring what Slashdot thought because everyone realized it was such an entirely predictable minority opinion.

          I mean this in all seriousness and as a non-rhetorical question. If that's how you really feel, why don't you just stop reading?

        • because everyone realized it was such an entirely predictable minority opinion.

          Obviously not everyone, you for instance care enough to post.
    • by mollymoo (202721)

      When you come right down to it you could eliminate every site that carries advertising on the web and I wouldn't notice. And hate-speech sites aren't exactly in my bookmark list either. I think the web would be a better place without advertising of any kind. Hence, my complete lack of remorse for any site that closes down because their ad revenue isn't making the nut. Too bad. I will continue to block all ads that I can.

      So who's going to pay for all the stuff you read? Who do you think pays for Slashdot?

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