In addition to media agencies, many retailers (especially business to business plus the travel sector) use both web analytics and panel-based audience measurement services to gain insights into their customers. The problem is that these two tools dish up varying statistical figures, giving rise to much confusion as to which is best.
This guide by consumer tracking specialist Kantar Media Audiences clarifies the dilemma by explaining what each platform delivers in relation to unique visitor metrics.
In a Nutshell
Experts agree that confusion originates from the fact that people lump web analytics and panel-based audience measurement under a single type of market research banner, and the problem is made worse by similar terminologies used for both, such as unique visitors. The fact is that these are two fundamentally different measurement methodologies, so looking at them as the same thing is like comparing apples and oranges.
Web Analytics Explained
Generally, web analytics platforms measure online activity at the visitor entry level of your website. A unique visitor in this context relates to three aspects – a unique cookie, placed on a particular computer, via a specific browser that a person uses to accesses your website. Any changes to this combination therefore give rise to a new unique visitor.
As an example, if you use Opera as your browser to visit a site, but then use Firefox to access that same site, it is counted by web analytics as two unique visitors. Conversely, if your partner accesses a website and you access the same website later, it is counted as one unique visitor because the exact same computer and browser was used, while in reality the website has had two unique visitors. This is one of the main reasons that counting unique visitors in web analytics is not the defining way to gather true strategic metrics and why caution is needed.
Audience Measurement Explained
Audience measurement services generally use a sample methodology – some of your website visitors are measured to forecast the total number of unique visitors from that sample as representative of a complete target audience.
Additionally, this sample can vary hugely depending on what services are used. One of the primary ways to collect a sample is through panellists, who are recruited to the panel through a range of strategies such as web based offers and emailers.
Unlike web analytics, audience measurement services make concerted efforts to measure truly unique visitors, as in an individual person that belongs to a particular demographic in terms of their lifestyle and other criteria. Those who participate in audience measurement panels are given separate log-ins so that all activity can be tied to a single individual.
An example of audience measurement as it relates to unique visitors is as follows: a panel of 120,000 people gives rise to the forecast of 172 million people who use the Internet, which means that on average 1 person in the panel represents 1,400 unique visitors.
So, on a practical level, audience measurement platforms define a unique visitor as an individual person within a panel that is representative of your website audience. If 1 of these individuals access your website, the audience measurement services will read this as (following from the example I have listed) 1,400 unique visitors to your website. If you get your head around this, panel-based audience measurement can deliver vital strategic guidance.
While the fact that these two solutions deliver differing stats with regards to unique visitors, consumer tracking specialist Kantar Media Audiences advises that both forms of data are valuable to businesses in their own way, with the provision that they are applied correctly. The main thing is for companies to stop comparing the stats that each platform delivers, but instead to use each method effectively as a separate methodology.