comScore Hopes New Metric Will Add Clarity — And Please Publishers, Hold Off Auditor

Despite the promise that measuring an online audience would be much easier than doing so in other media, it’s still pretty hard to figure out how many people are visiting your site. There’s been a series of terms — hits, pageviews, uniques — and plenty of confusion. And now many media sites are moving from an HTML-based paging system to ones that makes greater use of Ajax tools, which throw multiple wrenches into existing means of measuring audience.
comScore Media Metrix, one of the big players in the space (the other is Nielsen/NetRatings) wants to add another term to the mix. The AP reports that comScore “is now reporting on site ‘visits’ – defined as the number of times a person returns to a site with a break of at least a half-hour.” The idea is that, in the time of Ajax, this may be a more useful way of figuring out audience size. It will continue to report, as Nielsen/NetRatings does, “unique audience,” which the AP defines as “the number of visitors to a site in a given month, whether that person visits once for 10 seconds or several times.”
Although comScore EVP JAck Flanagan denied any connection in an interview with MartketWatch, comScore’s move “may address growing concerns among online publishers about the accuracy of comScore reports…The controversy, once largely behind the scenes, has erupted into a rather public spat in the last few months as Web publishers are pressing comScore to submit to an audit by an outside firm.”
ClickZ notes that the “visits” metric does add more information to the traffic picture. As noted in the Release, “, the 36th most-visited site with 16.7 million unique visitors in February, proved to be one of the most engaging sites, ranking second with 23.6 average visits per visitor during the month.” And “Microsoft Sites, which ranked behind Time Warner Network and Google Sites in terms of visitors, eclipsed both competitors by ranking third with 21.8 average visits per visitor.” So, what do we get with more information? A muddier picture, but maybe a more accurate one.