Think You Know Your Web Traffic? Think again. The scramble for online measures

If you hopped into a time machine that spat you out sometime between 1996 and now, you could almost pinpoint the year by the words used to describe an organization’s Web traffic. Hits? That would be 1998 or so. Page views? 2003-2005. Unique visitors? 2006-2007. Odds are that 2008-2009 is going to be the year of “time spent,” as in, “an average user spends four minutes and thirty-five seconds on our site.”It’s reasonable to assume that the migration to online news would have given organizations an easy and precise way to calculate their Web readership. But the truth is we don’t even know what to count. And as online advertising grows, getting a credible traffic measure on which to base ad rates is becoming ever more important.The statistics most publishers are familiar with are census data pulled from Web servers. These numbers, which count how many times a site is called into action through the Internet, are like red meat to a tiger — publishers love to pounce on them and proclaim they “know” their traffic.

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