Visitor Metrics - Is it 15 million or 7 million visitors at Forbes.com?

The New York Times article, "At Forbes.com, Lots of Glitter but Maybe Not So Many Visitors " attracted lot of attention as the issue of visitor measurement goes beyond Forbes.com. Here are some widely used vistor metrics at business/finance sites. 

Forbes own ads proclaim that “more people get their business news from Forbes.com than any other source in the world,” saying that its sites drew about 15 million unique visitors in a single month earlier this year. It was a well-heeled crowd, according to Forbes.com, which says that the average household income of its users is $149,601. 

For its claim of a worldwide audience of nearly 15.3 million, Forbes has been citing February 2006 data from comScore Media Metrix, but comScore has since revised the figure downward to less than 13.2 million as part of a broader revamping of its worldwide data for many sites.

Since February, comScore said, Forbes.com’s traffic has tumbled. In July, Forbes Web sites drew 7.3 million unique visitors worldwide. That put Forbes.com slightly below Dow Jones (whose online properties include The Wall Street Journal’s Web site and MarketWatch), CNNMoney.com (which includes the sites of Fortune and Business 2.0 magazines) and sites affiliated with Reuters, each of which comScore says had some 7.6 million visitors that month.

Forbes.com is hardly the only site to present traffic figures that are higher than those reported by the third-party companies. And because they rely on sampling and extrapolation, even the independent companies often present vastly different results for the same site.

Nielsen/NetRatings’ latest audience figures in the United States — Nielsen does not provide worldwide figures — show Forbes.com with less than 6.6 million unique visitors in July, putting it below both Dow Jones, at about 7.8 million, and CNNMoney, at about 8.5 million. The largest business site was Yahoo Finance, with 12.2 million visitors, although other financial sites often choose not to compare themselves with large portals.

The debate is more than just a numbers game. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, the Forbes site attracted almost $55 million in revenue in 2005, the most among business publications, including The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and the business pages of The New York Times. Dow Jones cited Nielsen/NetRatings data from June showing that the average visitor to a Dow Jones site spent 19 minutes there during the month, as opposed to 5 minutes for the Forbes.com user.

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