Big Problems with Third-Party Measurement

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There have been several articles around getting your site ranked in search engines and a whole economy has developed around SEO. While this is critical in getting users to your site, the advertising value of your site is also tied to its relative position with competitors. Calculating your competitive positions is difficult at best and in most cases the only the solution are third-party measurement companies. In the US there are a variety of third-party measurement sources but in Canada the leading provider is comScore.

For those not familiar with third-party measurement services, they measure a sample of internet users and create an estimated traffic report based on the sample’s behaviour. The sample of internet users is normally in the form of a group of users who volunteer to run tracking software on their computer. With a large enough panel these estimates are generally considered accurate enough to rank competitive sites and provide a good indication of relative value between sites.

The nature of websites makes automatically tracking users web browsing somewhat complicated, especially when web sites share links across multiple domains. Its easier for the tracking software to ignore links to certain file types such as images or movie files. It’s more complicated when it comes to frames since the tracking software doesn’t know the details of the frame. The whole website could be contained within the frame link so it can’t easily be ignored. As a result when a site with a frame link is loaded it will normally create a separate user visit for the frame linked domain.

For example a user visiting www.domain.com that loads a linked image from www.differentdomain.com would not trigger a visit for the differentdomain.com. However this seems this is different with frames. If the users visits www.domain.com and loads a frame linked from www.differentdomain.com, the tracking software normally tracks this as a separate visit to www.differentdomain.com.

Why is this a problem?  Well if you have a popular domain and want to boost a less popular domain you can do so with basic frame link.  A similar approach can be used with multiple smaller sites to boost a single domain.  The key is that the all the sites need to get traffic from the sample users in order to trigger the double count.  The double count will only effect the sites’ relative ranking by the third-party tracking and will not generate additional traffic to the site.  In some cases using frame links may actually hinder your own SEO plans.

How can you benefit from this situation?  Using an effective frame linking strategy a company can rank highly in third-party traffic measurement and in some cases overcome a competitor with higher direct visitors.   An affiliate program using an frame link would certainly help your competitive ranking.
It would be great to see measurement services exclude these frame links since in a lot of cases they don’t represent real traffic.  Until they do, frame links will be an important tool in competitive market segments.

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