ComScore just released its White Paper on Cookie Deletion. Cookies are little files that web pages access to save information in for marketing, analysis, analytics, and to assist with user experience. For instance, when you check a box to save your login information on a site, it’s typically saved in a Cookie and accessed the next time you open that page.
What is a unique visitor?
For analytical purposes, every time a web page sets a cookie, it’s marked as a new visitor. When you come back, they see that you’ve already been there. There are a couple distinct flaws with this approach:
- Users delete Cookies… a lot more than you think.
- The same user accesses a web site from multiple computers or browsers.
Regional news sites are able to charge advertisers based on information like this. In fact, the local Indianapolis Newspaper states,
IndyStar.com is central Indiana’s No. 1 online resource for news and information, receiving more than 30 million page views, 2.4 million unique visitors and 4.7 million visits a month.
So how much can cookie deletion skew numbers?
The results of the study reveal that approximately 31 percent of U.S. computer users clear their first-party cookies in a month (or have them cleared by automated software), with an average of 4.7 different cookies being observed for the same site within this user segment. Prior independent studies conducted by Belden Associates in 2004, by JupiterResearch in 2005 and by Nielsen/NetRatings in 2005 also concluded that cookies are deleted by at least 30 percent of Internet users in a month.
Are advertisers being taken advantage of?
Maybe! Take a site like the local news site and that 2.4 million number instantly drops to under a million visitors. A news site is a site that is frequently visited as well, so that number could be well below that. Now add the number of readers that visit the site at home and at work and you’re dropping that number another significant amount.
This is trouble for the old ‘eyeballs’ crowd. While sales folks are always selling by the numbers, their websites could actually have far fewer visitors than competing media. Of course, there’s no real way to ‘fix’ the issue. Though any web professional with half a brain recognizes that this is the case, I’m not trying to state that sites are purposefully overstating their numbers. They aren’t overstating their statistics on purpose… they are simply reporting industry standard statistics. Statistics that happen to be very, very unreliable.
As with any good marketing program, focus on the results and not on the number of eyeballs! If you are comparing rates between media types, you may want to apply some quick math so the numbers are a little more realistic!