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Nielsen eyes anonymous data to track online ads

Ratings agency says its Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings will track online advertising faster and more accurately and tie together a company's Web, mobile, and TV advertising.

Nielsen is working on a new way to track online ads that it promises will be more accurate and quicker than today's methods.

Currently in development, the company's Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings will combine a couple different ways of showing advertisers how well their ads are doing.

First, Nielsen will tap into responses from an online panel of users, similar to the way it collects TV ratings from selected viewers. Second, it will set up a tracking method to collect anonymous, aggregated data from Web users who opt in and view an online ad.

Through this approach, Nielsen says it will be able to provide a variety of metrics for online ad campaigns and give advertisers feedback within a few days of launching a campaign.

"This is a major step forward for both Nielsen and our industry," Steve Hasker, president of media products for Nielsen, said in a statement. "This new system will provide marketers with a better understanding of their ROI, and will give media companies a much needed tool to prove the value of their audiences. Perhaps most importantly, marketers and media companies alike will now have a simpler way to measure the combined reach of TV, the web, and even mobile advertising."

One area that may raise a red flag for Web users is the company's online tracking system. Nielsen explained that this method will request a pixel when a particular ad is viewed in a user's browser. That pixel will then travel to Nielsen and to other approved companies to measure the online ad.

But in trying to head off privacy concerns, Nielsen said that the pixels won't pass along the identity of the users, the Web site, or the advertiser. Nielsen added that this system can't target specific Web users and won't track them as they browse from one site to another. People can also opt out of this tracking process if they choose to do so.

To test the new tracking methods during the fourth quarter, Nielsen will first work in the U.S. with such key advertisers as Procter & Gamble and Verizon Wireless and online media companies such as Starcom MediaVest and Facebook. The new system is expected to become commercially available next year, at which time Nielsen hopes to make it an industry standard by inviting other advertisers and companies to join in.