The AdNews numbers that mislead the market

It’s always a tad tawdry when competitors attack each other, but I hope you’ll bear with me…

Whether cynically or through incompetence, AdNews has been misleading its advertisers by providing them with data that seems to suggest they have six times their true online audience.

Allow me to present the evidence.  

It’s an issue of which we have been aware for a little while. They’ve had this graph out in the market for a couple of months now.


AdNews' claimed "impressions"

Adnews_updateThat graph looks impressive, doesn’t it?

A reasonable person might well assume that it means they’re serving 1.2m page impressions a month.

I bet that’s what you assume too isn’t it? Good on the 80 year old market stalwart, eh? That’s a healthy number.

It’s backed up in the accompanying text.

Adnews_media_kit (They’re very proud of not being a blog aren’t they?)

But I started to smell a rat. 1.2m page impressions off 40,000 unique browsers is unlikely.

So I looked more carefully. One of the things you need to know if you are trying to decide where to advertise is page impressions – how many times will your ad potentially be seen? Particularly if, like AdNews, the ratecard is set by periods of time the ad is on the site rather than actual ad impressions delivered.

So what does that AdNews data actually show? Amazingly, it’s how many ad impressions AdNews served – not how many page impressions. A single page of AdNews has six ad slots, which they would count as six impressions.

This is where I start to scratch my head.

Can you think of a single legitimate reason for presenting this number to the market?  Google Analytics has actual page impressions data available. Why wouldn’t you supply that if you weren’t trying to deceive your advertisers?

The most charitable explanation I can come up with is this: a technical person at AdNews passed all of the data to the sales team and there was some kind of misunderstanding which led to the creation of the graph above. Admittedly that doesn’t explain why they use the misleading term impressions, rather than “ad impressions”.

But it’s the best I can come up with.

Up to now I’ve had no hard evidence that reasonable people were being misled. But that changed yesterday.

Amnesia’s Iain McDonald, one of Australia’s most respected digital people, published a blog post about the state of traffic for all of the online marketing titles. Clearly (and reasonably) assuming that the 1.2m figure was what it appeared to be, his numbers suggested to readers that AdNews was the biggest marketing site by far on that metric at least.

Fortunately, the smoking gun is in the AdNews graph above. You’ll notice that they are claiming 731,705 “impressions” for February. That number rang a bell.

Amnesia carried out a similar exercise earlier this year. On that occasion, AdNews shared slightly more data – they included both their “impressions” of 731,705 and their page views – 145,956. (At that time I’m guessing there were just five ad slots).

This was enough evidence to persuade Iain that he’d been fooled by the number, and he moved AdNews down his table from 1.2m views to just over 200,000. He still puts them just above B&T which is in my view inaccurate, but that’s not my fight.

Leaving aside my selfish frustration at a competitor not playing fair, there’s a wider issue at stake here. One of the roles of the trade press is as a watchdog. It’s very hard for the sector as a whole to champion best practice, when shoddy tactics like this are used.

Frustratingly, there’s a very easy way to level the playing field – audit. It’s cheap. The ABA does it for just over $100 a month. Yet only Mumbrella, Campaign Brief and its sister title BestAdsOnTV take part.

And clearly there are advertisers who do not demand it. I wonder if those AdNews advertisers understand what they are getting.

AdNews has an interesting stance on audit. It only allows audited magazines to be considered for its Magazine of the Year Awards. Yet its own website is not audited.

For years, AdNews (which was ABC audited) criticised the CAB audit of its rival B&T (declaration of interest: I used to work there). Until earlier this month when it suddenly switched from ABC to CAB.

That came six months after it published a table of ABC data, but deleted itself from the list after a 10% fall.

The sad thing is that AdNews is doing pretty well online at the moment – its journos have broken some decent stories. Albeit off a lower base, I bet their real page impressions are on the up too. But the journos are being let down by the tactics of their commercial colleagues.

If AdNews has nothing to hide, there’s an easy answer to all of this – get an audit.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Cat Woman
    26 Aug 10
    4:08 pm

  2. …I love a good cat fight

  3. Occasional media buyer
    26 Aug 10
    4:19 pm

  4. If you believe unaudited numbers then you’re a naive idiot.

    If you work in the media and believe unaudited numbers then you’re an incompetent idiot.

  5. Carrob
    26 Aug 10
    4:20 pm

  6. Tim, I think I said something similar on Mumbrella earlier this year and got jumped all over from someone form Publishers Australia for suggesting that all magazines should be audited. And my sentiments are the same as yours. If you sell advertising you should have an audit. There is no excuse. And don’t even suggest saying “ah but advertisers won’t appreciate the unique nature of our audience! They will make it into a sales game”.

    No. It just means your sales team are shithouse at selling your product.

    There is no excuse. People without audits have something to hide.

  7. Tony Abbott
    26 Aug 10
    4:32 pm

  8. I won’t submit our figures until the leak is found.

  9. dogwithabone
    26 Aug 10
    4:34 pm

  10. Personally I’ve never been a fan of bagging competitors. It makes you look petty. Yes they should audit, but by the same token, impressions aren’t everything, only one indicator. You’re offering different models of providing content and advertisers will make their choice based on a variety of factors, style of content being one…Tele vs SMH anyone?

  11. Really
    26 Aug 10
    4:34 pm

  12. Occasional Media Buyer – based on that sentiment every digital media buyer is an idiot.

    99.9% of the dollars spent on display media in Oz are on unaudited sites.

  13. Greer
    26 Aug 10
    4:36 pm

  14. That is shockingly bad form adnews. If I were an advertiser I would most certainly be asking for an 80% refund…

  15. Adnews Advertiser
    26 Aug 10
    4:51 pm

  16. Unfortunately we have been the subject of AdNews’ creative figure work but on the print side.

  17. @eunmac
    26 Aug 10
    5:11 pm

  18. I feel obliged to defend AdNews here on my part from my post yesterday – and maybe lighten the air a little!! No need for WWIII.

    No one at AdNews claimed that the information sent to us was specifically ‘page impression’ data. Mistakes can happen and when they do the objective is to get things corrected as quickly as possible. To my best knowledge the data in my post is now good within an acceptable margin. I’m ok with these things happening, especially on a post that is little more than a quick peek at the industry publishers.

    C’mon Tim… We’re nice ppl here in digital land. We love Adnews. We love Mumbrella. etc. Let’s all just hug.


  19. Whateverhappened toethics?
    26 Aug 10
    5:11 pm

  20. And why should you not have a go, Tim? The Ad News ad team spend quality time bagging their competition at every possible oppotunity. They just don’t realise that its such a bad look for them

  21. Carrob
    26 Aug 10
    5:14 pm

  22. @dogwithabone I don’t think that audits and content style are mutually exclusive. It is not a reasonable extrapolation of Tims argument.

    Tims (quite reasonable) point is if you have two media products that are similar (and let’s face it. All advertising decisions rely on choosing between several fairly similar products), then the unaudited product should not be used.

    The fact that arguments like this are even being had holds the entire industry back.

  23. AS
    26 Aug 10
    5:33 pm

  24. Shame this is detracting from the sterling work being done by the new AdNews editorial team of Danielle Long and Darren Davidson

  25. Cam
    26 Aug 10
    5:40 pm

  26. @Occasional media buyer

    If you work in the media and believe *audited* numbers then you’re an incompetent idiot.

  27. Frustrated Advertiser
    26 Aug 10
    5:44 pm

  28. I have experienced Ad News bagging competitors as well. It doesn’t impress and makes the entire industry look bad

  29. Mangrove
    26 Aug 10
    5:49 pm

  30. Smoke and mirrors have been the staple in the area of web metrics for many years now, but its a sad slight on our industry when one of the leading media in the space is caught doing exactly what many good quality articles they have published in the past have sought to expose…

    Total impressions vs actual pageviews is a metric that is creeping into the digital marketing space, and needs to be highlighted and esposed for what it is, so well done Tim – even if you do have a vested interest.

    The ABA’s new digital audits are the only independently verified metric, and why the likes of AdNews and B&T are not auditing is a question that all advertisers and agencies spending money with them should (politely) ask…

  31. Adnews Advertiser
    26 Aug 10
    5:50 pm

  32. Thanks Cam, but we don’t work in the media and we are going on information told to us by salespeople to solicit advertising dollars. When the information is found to be lacking it leaves an unpleasant taste in our mouths.

  33. Anonymous
    26 Aug 10
    5:59 pm

  34. There’s only room for either Adnews or B&T in this market, and both know it.

    No-one reads either in this agency any more — we just get one copy of each and leave it on the reception table. It invariably gets thrown out the following week, unopened.

    Glad I’m not in that business.

  35. Adnews Advertiser
    26 Aug 10
    6:04 pm

  36. But you have to advertise in print to get an online quota for recruitment. Hands are tied.

  37. Anonymous
    26 Aug 10
    7:05 pm

  38. Should I mention Auto-Refresh and its impact on Page Impressions now?

  39. Cam
    27 Aug 10
    12:58 am

  40. @Adnews Advertiser

    Since you’re not @Occasional media buyer and you’re not in the media I clearly wasn’t talkin’ to you, eh?

  41. Alexx - ABA Watchdog
    27 Aug 10
    10:28 am

  42. Great to see a real change in the sentiment towards auditing (at least among Mumbrella readers). A year ago, ‘web’ and ‘audit’ were never used in the same sentence, but now the call for audited figures pops up more and more. But still a long way to go before it’s standard …

    You can go here to find out who has the ABA green tick and numbers you can trust:

  43. Mr Corbett
    27 Aug 10
    12:57 pm

  44. @eunmac.
    shut it hippy….

  45. Mark C
    27 Aug 10
    2:16 pm

  46. It’s pretty easy to see that very few people look at the Adnews site, or at least spend only a few seconds there by how few response posts/comments there are for each article. For potential advertisers this should be a clue to the numbers being a little exaggerated.

    ps I do like Adnews in print

  47. Matt M
    27 Aug 10
    4:02 pm

  48. Maybe a better title for the graph would have been ‘ad hits’…

    “In the early 1990s, web site statistics consisted primarily of counting the number of client requests (or hits) made to the web server. This was a reasonable method initially, since each web site often consisted of a single HTML file. However, with the introduction of images in HTML, and web sites that spanned multiple HTML files, this count became less useful.”

  49. cp
    27 Aug 10
    6:03 pm

  50. It’s disappointing AdNews have allowed the questionable data perception to continue. Given they haven’t addressed the issue directly, and given the material Tim has shown above is still being used in the market by them, and given the queries continue by the industry, one would have to assume (edited by Mumbrella for legal reasons)
    If I was a sales person over there with integrity, I’d ask my bosses for real numbers, put pressure on them to get audited by a recognised and respected audit company, using page impressions, and then back myself in when presenting to clients. At least then I’d be able to sleep at night.

  51. Anonymous
    27 Aug 10
    6:09 pm

  52. My problem with their media kit, is the “more than just a BLOG” stuff. Talk about running scared.

  53. Anonymous
    27 Aug 10
    6:17 pm

  54. I like this comment from someone (probably on AdNews) in February –

    “For those tired Mumbo users check out
    Ed Charles (ex editor AdNews) will eat Tim for breakfast!”

    How did that go? He’s not posted since July:

    The number of comments his posts got: 2, 0, 1, 1, 3, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0

    No wonder he stopped writing for them. He must ahve got tired talking to himself.

  55. mumbrella
    27 Aug 10
    6:20 pm

  56. While your forensic analysis is appreciated, anonymous, I fear it will look like we wrote that comment ourselves. I also feel a tad bad that Ed has been dragged into this.

    Check out his Melbourne food blog Tomatom .

    It’s very good.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  57. Adnews Advertiser
    27 Aug 10
    6:21 pm

  58. @Cam
    Apology accepted.
    Yes the media kit leaves a lot to be desired plus the attitude of arrogance that runs through the organisation. Times have moved on, Yaffa hasn’t.

  59. Bleeding obvious
    27 Aug 10
    6:24 pm

  60. Err, shouldn’t we state the bleeding obvious… ‘page view’ and ‘page impression’ mean the same thing! PV is principally used by the yanks, hence Google Analytics nomenclature.

    To use the word ‘impression’ on it’s own without specifiying what type of impression (page, ad) is almost as ignorant as referring to the number of ‘hit’s your getting on that interweb thingy. Soooooo 1999.

    Kind of revealing that these Web 1.0 basics are not understood or accurately reported on by supposed ‘industry’ people…

  61. Occasional media buyer
    27 Aug 10
    6:30 pm

  62. FFS, Bleeding Obvious. You’re the one that’s missed the bleeding obvious.

    What do you think this post is saying? That Adnews is misleadingly using the word ‘impressions’ to make people think they mean ‘page impressions’ or ‘page views’.

    Of course they’re not doing it out of ignorance.

  63. John Grono
    27 Aug 10
    7:04 pm

  64. IMHO the actual terms “page IMPRESSION” and “page VIEW” are misleading and serve to pump up the numbers. They are actually a “page SERVED”.

    For example, I was at a lengthy meeting yesterday and when I got back to my desk I had left both IE and Chrome open, both with multiple tabs open – clearly with a single browser tab open. Any AR pages served were not ‘viewed’ and therefore could make no ‘impression’. In fact I did view each tab/page when I got back, but clearly any time or session based metrics are severely over-stated.

  65. Seb
    27 Aug 10
    9:39 pm

  66. @anonymous 5.59 When was the last time B&T actually broke a decent news story? Or Mumbrella for that matter? The latter is good for gossip, the former, not very much. Ad news at least breaks some decent stories . they have picked up their game this year.

  67. Zorro
    28 Aug 10
    5:02 pm

  68. Have you looked at Ad news website. I don’t think they’ve got manuy paying ads anyway.

    They may not realise it but they already losing business. Lots of advertisers aren’t stupid. They know you can’t trust publisher statements.

    I’d rather buy on a reasonable cpm I can trust than on a smaller bullshit one.

  69. mumbrella
    29 Aug 10
    1:29 pm

  70. Seb,

    I don’t disagree. I do think the AdNews editorial team has been breaking more stuff recently. That’s why it’s such a pity their commercial colleagues are using non-credible data in the market – if their audience improves, it’s going to get lost in the murk.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  71. John Harrison
    29 Aug 10
    2:54 pm

  72. Who is this Harold Mitchell fella I keep reading about in Ad News. Is he the owner? They write about him with more awe than News Ltd hacks write about Rupert (Murdoch); not Rupert the Bear.

  73. mumbrella
    29 Aug 10
    4:14 pm

  74. Forget about Rupert, John. Harold’s the one who’s really in charge.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  75. Lynchy
    29 Aug 10
    4:24 pm

  76. Seb,

    Can you point to any examples of AdNews breaking stories on their site? I’ve looked through their archives and can’t find any in the last few months.

  77. Anonymous
    31 Aug 10
    1:41 pm

  78. Miaow, Lynchy…

  79. Jobbo
    31 Aug 10
    1:49 pm

  80. He’s got a point though.

  81. Donovan
    31 Aug 10
    2:50 pm

  82. Who’s this John Harrison fella I keep reading about?

  83. Not Harold
    3 Sep 10
    3:36 pm

  84. Who’s this Donovan fella I keep reading about?

  85. mumbrella
    3 Sep 10
    3:38 pm

  86. We can probably stop the “Who’s this…” jokes at about this point while they’re still funny(ish).


    Tim – Mumbrella

  87. Web Design
    4 Sep 10
    8:36 am

  88. its not only ad news that does this – look at companies like Sensis with their Yellow pages online. They have been in my office trying to get me to go online saying that they are getting more consumer enquiries than google – I mean this is crazy what they are trying to peddle…but at the end of the day everyone has to make a living I guess.


  89. Curious
    6 Sep 10
    8:49 am

  90. Steve/ Web Design,

    When you see a presentation from Sensis you don’t believe, do you challenge them on the figures?

    You should at least give them the chance to tell you where they’re getting it from. They’re slightly bigger fish than AdNews and they must have to use credible info.

  91. JJ
    6 Sep 10
    8:51 am

  92. That’s the biggest problem with this industry – although we’re all sales people we still see a pretty chart and fall for it.

  93. website design
    6 Sep 10
    8:58 am

  94. Curious – of course I challenge them with their figures but these guys are trained almost brainwashed if you will in their selling of the yellow page online – look lets face it they can sya anything they like but at the end of the day you just cannot beat google – you can throw all the stats at me you like and you can be on any directory you want but the only thing that does count is google – I would like to hear from people who think that this is not true ..

  95. Andrew Smith
    7 Sep 10
    4:14 pm

  96. Resembles what goes in solid state media e.g. physical event visitors being over stated quite safely as the “commissioners” are in a bind having decided upon channel (s) and may go along with inflated impressions, visitors etc. so as to not appear stupid?

  97. SA
    12 Sep 10
    4:49 pm

  98. That’s probably the problem with all media.

    Media agencies want to look good to their cleints, so they always talk up whatever media they choose regardless of how it really does.