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Measurement: The (Online) Numbers Game

image from blog.smartpagerank.com Schools aren't the only ones struggling with measurement issues, you might be heartened to know.  There are several key elements of the Internet economy plagued with vexing measurement problems.  The first and most obvious is independent, comparable measurements of how much traffic a website gets. No one really agrees on how to define web traffic (uniques, pageviews, visits).  Anyone who tells you their traffic numbers doesn't really know or is probably lying (and anyone who shows you someone else's figures is showing you an estimate of traffic not an actual count).  Google's famous PageRank system, which has been used for years now as a measure of success but is subject to constant manipulation by advertisers and businesses who hire "search engine optimization" experts to help them figure out how to beat Google's secret algorithm.  Then there's the pageview system "CPM" used to charge advertisers (and pay some bloggers),which is increasingly gamed by websites seeking to maximize their pageviews.  All it takes is a few slideshows and lots of page breaks to bump traffic numbers up, with no real increase in readership or quality. The result of all this is that there are few numbers anyone considers credible -- not even Twitter followers are considered a good metric anymore -- and advertisers and others are increasingly unwilling to pay for readers, pageviews, or clickthroughs. What makes the situation even worse online is there is that constant illusion of specificity -- the reams of reports and graphs and spreadsheets that Google Analytics and Omniture can produce. Sound familiar?  Sure does.


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