Demographics are often an important piece of information that an advertiser will want before purchasing an ad on a web site, however, there are some rarely discussed problems with the collection demographic information. There are several ways in which this statistical information can be collected, a few of which are discussed below.
One of the most common methods utilizes the web server’s http log files which contain limited information about visitors to a site. More commonly, the use of Log Analyzer software to parse these logs and display them in an easy to read format have cropped up, the most notable of which is WebTrends. The problem with this method is that there are limits on the amount of information and accuracy that Web server logs provide. First, many of the requests may have come from proxy servers and therefore the client’s host name may be made anonymous because the server log contains the proxy’s host name. Second, the server log only contains those requests that actually reach the server, and exclude cases when users examine a document from the server that is cached by a proxy server or by the client Web browser. The use of caches, particularly proxy caches, has become very prevalent on the Web, and thus the accuracy of server logs as a measure of Web page usage has declined. Furthermore, the increase in privacy concerns on the net has prompted many to join services that keep their identity secret via the use of anonymous proxies.
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The most important problem with the two above technologies is that they do not provide accurate location demographics and this is typically one of the most requested pieces of information by a potential advertiser. The location of a client is usually found via the use of a reverse DNS lookup which discovers the host name of the client from its IP address. The host name will have an extension at the end and often times it will include a country code such as .uk (England), .ca (Canada), etc. These host names can be logged based on location because of the information that the country code provides us. Unfortunately, the majority of the host names logged are .com and .net. What do these extensions tell us about the host’s location? Absolutely nothing.
In an effort to create communities, many web sites now require that new users register for the site and that existing members login to access resources. During the registration process, they collect demographic information via a form that the user fills out. While this process is better in some ways, it also has its share of problems, the most notable of which, is that users often enter incorrect information into the registration form. People have become very wary about providing personal information on the web and will often enter fake data if they fear that it compromises their privacy. This method also does not include information from individuals that visit the site and even view advertisements, but choose not to register. In many cases this group will outnumber those that do register, and thus, the demographics obtained may only represent a small percentage of the people that will actually view your advertisement and may not be an accurate representation of the visitor base.
Thus far, there really isn’t a perfect solution, but here is what you can do to help yourself out:
Ask questions – It is perfectly acceptable for you to inquire about the method and source of the demographics that a salesperson provides you.
Understand the issues – This tutorial is an introduction to some of the concepts surrounding demographic data, but certainly is not all encompassing as there are a wide variety of data collection methods and applications, with emerging technologies coming about all of the time. As a web marketer, it is important to understand the technical challenges and differences between web marketing and more traditional formats.
Don’t over analyze – Demographics certainly serve an important purpose, but are not the only thing that should be considered when choosing advertising options. Price, quality, flexibility, reputation and legality should all be considerations when purchasing advertising.
Globalize – While not an easy option for many service based companies, if you sell a product or online service, reaching an international audience can greatly increase sales as well as the need for inaccurate demographic information. If you have the capability to sell your products worldwide, then you need to worry less about which countries are being targeted by the web site hosting your ads. More importantly, you greatly increase the number of web sites that become viable advertising partners and give yourself greater flexibility to find the prices and options that work for you.
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