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Media Buyers Warned on Misrepresentation of Figures

18 Aug 2011

The Audit Bureaux of Australia is warning media buyers not to trust misleading website audience figures that are based on publishers' unproven claims and internal Google Analytics reports. This warning to the industry comes from the ABA due to increasing demand from its members to intensify education around this issue and to help protect media buyers from wasting time and ad spend on risky publishers that present misleading figures.

Paul Dovas, ABA chief executive said: "At a time when accountability should be at the forefront of all advertising decisions, we are still seeing a high number of media buyers accepting publisher's Google Analytics claims. Media buyers should be wary of this approach because unaudited publisher claims have, time and again, been proven to be untrustworthy because the numbers are so easy to manipulate, either through technical means or by misleading reporting of the figures."

When used for internal web analytics purposes, Google Analytics is an adequate tool because there is no need for standardisation or compliance to industry rules. However due to measurement implementation errors or publishers' disregard for industry measurement rules, internal Google Analytics reports do not meet the industry standard required for the purposes of benchmarking and proving online audience size to advertisers.

Dovas said: "Some publishers choose not to audit because they know they can provide more favourable internal Google Analytics figures which can be manipulated to provide a higher audience number than competitors. It is disturbing to know that media buyers may be taking them at their word and not asking for audited numbers which is a key requirement in other media."

The most common misuse of Google Analytics reports is when the website misrepresents worldwide audience traffic as Australian traffic enabling the website to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors. Another tactic is to report the highest month's audience figures instead of reporting a current month or a rolling average. The most common technical error that occurs is when a website places an additional Google Analytics tracking tag on each page, causing each page view to be counted twice. There are numerous ways to distort the numbers, which makes it very difficult for media buyers or competitors to detect when this is occurring. The ABA recently published a digital watchdog report that is essential reading for media buyers which highlights many of the mistakes and tricks that can cause misleading publisher claims.

All of the risks that have been highlighted by the ABA impact the media evaluation process, impeding media buyers' ability to fairly assess where to place their ad investment and have confidence in the figures being used. These traps also put trustworthy publishers at an unfair disadvantage because they will be competing with inflated or even fabricated figures. In order to protect their ad investment, media buyers should seek independent ABA verification of online audience figures.

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