This weekend, Jason Calcanis set off a big argument about how Comscore collects data on site traffic. Mathew Ingram has a good roundup here. I learned a lot from the heated debates, about all the different ways that traffic can be counted, and how media sites can use various tricks to bump up their traffic numbers. But this is all a red herring. It's not the traffic that matters it's the advertising conversions.
Today, may advertisers still buy media based on a site's traffic but that's not the trend. Advertisers are increasingly able to measure their conversation rate -- and that becomes the number they measure.
That's the number that means something regardless of how total traffic is counted.
It doesn't matter if Comscore says your site's traffic is twice as large as it did before -- if your advertisers can't convert that traffic to sales then you might as well have no traffic at all.
Media companies are in a tough spot...
Advertisers have so many ways to optimize their media buys. They are becoming more and more efficient at placing ads in the right places at the right times and getting the best price for those ads.
Media companies don't have that same leverage.
That's why advertising will become a less important revenue stream for most media brands.
The future media business model will be what I call a 'Heinz 57' model: many multiple revenue streams.
Some of it will be advertising, some of it will be paywalls, sponsorships, virtual currencies, lead generation, events, and more...
It will be tough to manage all those revenue streams but that's what will sort out the competitors from each other. Publishers won't be able to lunch out with key customers -- they'll have to stay at their desk managing many relationships, and many sources of revenues, in real-time. Their job is going to get a lot harder.
That's why all this tussle over site traffic metrics seems so out of touch with what's actually happening.