In the second of our short series on free ways to research website traffic, we’re taking a look at Quantcast today. This tool has become one of my favorite places to research websites and blogs as a public relations professional. There are many good things to say about Quantcast and I encourage you to go there, plug in some websites and see what you can see. However, Quantcast has one major drawback: A site owner has to volunteer to be measured by Quantcast, meaning if a blogger doesn’t install the Quantcast code on their site, you’re out of luck. Still, there’s a lot of good, so let’s dive in.
I spoke with Adam Gerber, Quantcast’s director of marketing recently to get past the fancy sales speak on the website and find out exactly what the product is for, how it operates and how someone like I can optimize its use. Essentially, Quantcast provides people-level data about a website’s visitors. Other traffic monitoring and measurement services, like Alexa (which apparently doesn’t care I’m trying to get hold of them) and Compete (which I profiled last week) provide panel data (sampling) that tracks clicks, page views, etc. Quantcast is more complete, census data that tracks every exchange that happens on a site.
Okay, so you have actual clicks and on-site behavior of visitors. But how can your code tell if they’re white/black, young/old, rich/poor, well educated/not?
“We model traffic at an aggregate internet level,” Gerber said. He went into an explanation of cookies and people and how they do and don’t relate. I zoned out because I had a research methods class in graduate school and the first stats term that hits a conversation makes me lapse into some sort of brain-freeze coma. But he did point to a number of reference points they used to sample data points, including several Internet Service Provider and toolbar data additionally supplied to Quantcast, that help them model the traffic to come up with the demographic profiles.
This means while they track census-level data, which is more accurate for traffic and on-site behavior than the sampling other competitors use, for the Quantcast demographic profiling, they do use sampling and modeling to come up with their audience profile numbers. Is there a better way to do this? My brain isn’t big enough to come up with one, so we’ll have to be satisfied the sampling isn’t grossly flawed.
How they collect their data is better. The number of publishers (websites or blogs) they collect isn’t as good because site monitoring by Quantcast is completely voluntary and opt-in for the publisher. They are currently tracking over 90,000 publishers. Gerber claims this gives them a strong view into the traffic patterns and media consumption happening on-line. But it could be better and will be with more opt-ins from publishers.
That said, Quantcast offers both bloggers and public relations professionals trying to reach them some very powerful tools for success. Here’s how.
HOW QUANTCAST HELPS PUBLIC RELATIONS
Quantcast is actually built as a tool for media planners and buyers. These are people who are given a budget to buy on-line (or off-line) advertising who must then find the most effective way to use the dollars to reach a certain target audience. Quantcast gives media planners and buyers a powerful tool to see the demographic makeup of an website or blog audience.
But like the media planner and buyer, public relations professionals need to know which blogs or websites are the most relevant to the target audience for their clients. Using Quantcast, PR pros can either verify the data of a single website by reviewing its Quantcast data or they can use the very useful Media Planner tool Quantcast provides.
By plugging in the makeup of the audience you are looking for (Let’s say men, aged 25-34 with a college or graduate level education in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio markets.), you’ll quickly find that Austinist.com had the highest composition index of that target of any site in those markets, but has just 4,000 or so of them visiting each month. You can also see that the newspapers — chron.com and dallasnews.com — offer the most eyeballs from the audience you’re looking for and that, surprisingly (at least to me) the third highest visited site in terms of total traffic of your demographic in question in these cities is evite.com.
You can search sites based on maximum or minimum levels of monthly uniques, so you can, in fact, get down to the niche or blog level with your research, giving your blogger outreach research some quantitative back-up.
The coolest thing about the tool is, of course, that it’s free. All you have to do is register to use the site.
HOW QUANTCAST HELPS BLOGGERS
I’ve reported this before but it’s worth repeating so that more bloggers see it and, hopefully, take advantage of it.
Many bloggers want to make money with their efforts and, thus, are constantly looking for advertising for their sites. But marketing managers aren’t going to actually pay to advertise on a blog without some indication that the buy makes sense. By having site demographics available for potential advertisers, bloggers can solidify the marketer’s decision-making to buy on your site. In some cases, particularly with the alcohol, wine and spirits industry of which I’m fairly familiar, a blog without third-party verification of site demographics is automatically out of consideration for advertising dollars.
The bottom line is this, bloggers: You can’t say, “I write about gadgets, Sony, so you should advertise on my site,” and expect to sell it. Sony spends millions of dollars on advertising every year. You have to say to them, “Eighty-seven percent of my audience is upper-income, highly educated males which means your advertisement will reach a higher percentage of your target on my blog than through other media you’re using.” That, and the total number of eyeballs (keep in mind big brands buy ads that reach millions of people) will get Sony’s attention.
Of course, there are bloggers out there who don’t want the public knowing their actual site traffic or demographic data. While there may be exceptions to this, I think those are bloggers who know they have little to offer, so they feel the need to have much to hide. If you want to monetize your blog, advertisers need third-party verification they’re spending money in the right places. Quantcast provides this in as accurate a form as any other service. Don’t be a wimp. Install the code.
Quantcast is a powerful free tool for both bloggers and public relations professionals, not to mention media planners and buyers. Frankly, it’s astonishing that the tool is free considering you cannot get this type of data on sites with less than 100-200K unique visitors from the paid services like Nielsen and ComScore. Yes, it is somewhat limited since the blogger or publisher has to opt-in to being measured, but the more publishers that learn its advantages and opt-in, the better it will be.
When I’m doing research on blogger outreach for my clients and need to understand traffic or demographic information about a site in question, I start with Quantcast. Sure, I wish there were a better way to research a site’s demographics other than modeling, but no one else can offer a better solution that I can find. So, as far as site research tools go, Quantcast is an excellent addition to your arsenal.
And, oh by the way, since I did a quality check on Compete.com last week bringing to light some major concerns with how their numbers stack up to Google Analytics, I checked on Social Media Explorer’s stats with Google and Quantcast. For the month of January, through Jan. 24, Quantcast and Google Analytics had a discrepancy of just 61 unique visits and 27 page views. For all of 2008 (or from April 11 on, which is when I installed Quantcast code on my site), Quantcast was only off by 61 page views and 372 unique visits. Why the differences? I don’t know. But the numbers are a lot closer than Compete’s.
But those are my opinions. What did I miss? Is Quantcast as cool as I think it is? Your experiences and thoughts are needed below. The comments are yours.