Is the Web bubble back? Ask Hitwise

From the London Telegraph comes a rumour that Hitwise — one of the half a dozen web-traffic measurement companies whose stats show up in press releases, and are used as fuel for takeover rumours — is itself the subject of takeover talks, with the price tag reportedly an eye-popping 180 million pounds or about $350-million (U.S.). Joe Duck says this sounds about right if Hitwise charges its 1,200 or so clients an average of $2,500 a month for access to its data.

I’m not sure where Joe gets those numbers from, but let’s assume he’s right. That works out to annual revenue of about $36-million, which makes the rumoured takeover price between 9 and 10 times revenue. Joe says that’s “not outrageous” for an established and growing Internet company, which leads me to believe one thing — no, not that Joe is on crack, but that he has a very high threshold for outrage.

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I think between 9 and 10 times revenue is bubble-type math. And yes, I know that Google sells for 15 times revenue; in fact, that actually helps my case. Obviously, traffic measurement is a hot area right now, primarily because advertisers are desperate to find a way of deciding where to put their money, and websites are desperate to find a way of proving they are the right place to put it.

Using page views as a metric, as Steve Rubel notes, is broken. But then, the different standards used by Hitwise and comScore and Nielsen and Alexa aren’t much better. As Matt Marshall pointed out, website measurement as a whole is a train wreck. Alexa only measures users who install a browser plugin and is biased towards the U.S.; comScore uses a piece of software that has been accused of being spyware; Nielsen phones people and asks them what they do; and Hitwise uses ISP log files.

What you typically wind up with is half a dozen measurements that all say something different — in some cases, one firm will show a website falling in popularity or flat, while another shows its traffic zooming. Is Hitwise any better than its competitors? Who knows. But any way you slice it, 9 or 10 times revenue is a boatload of cash.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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