Improved comScore still missing part of the picture

Web metrics provider comScore has announced an extension to its methodology that it says willl “account for 100 per cent of a website’s audience.”

The new Media Metrix 360 may well do that, and should mollify some comScore clients who feel they’ve been under-rated by the current system.

But there’s still a significant problem: the enhancement will only apply to sites that are comScore clients, meaning the rest of the web will be under-counted by comparison, and the results will continue to be confusing or misleading.

Starting with July 2009 data in Canada and the United States, comScore will augment its current panel-based surveys with server metrics provided by participating websites. This “panel-centric hybrid” system will be extended to the United Kingdom in August. Other countries will follow, although the timeline hasn’t been announced.

The panel-based system, although good for correlating demographic and geographic factors with web traffic, has been limited by the fact that panel members must install tracking software on their computers. As a result, home computers are over-represented, compared to work and public computers. For sites such as news providers, which typically draw most of their traffic during the workday, the gap between comScore numbers and those generated internally, by server logs or software such as Omniture, can be huge.

comScore says websites participating in the new system will need to embed beacon calls on their content. This certainly has the advantage (compared with a purely panel-based system) of enabling comScore to track usage not just in the home, but anywhere that content is delivered, including internet cafes, HTML emails and even mobile devices. And comScore says its clients will get a more granular view of their traffic. That’s a real step forward for sites that don’t already have good analytics tools.

But to present a more accurate picture of market share, a third type of metric needs to be integrated into the mix: ISP-based tracking of all sites accessed (the approach used by Hitwise). This would enable website operators to better understand the entire online market, including the impact of sites that are not comScore clients.

Given that comScore reports are the de facto method for judging Canadian websites’ market share, a comprehensive solution would bring much-needed clarity and no doubt increase advertiser confidence.