Web Advertising Lingo

By , July 1, 1998

(July 1998) Unfortunately, in the emerging industries arising from internet commerce, no one has the authority to fix specific or single meanings to common new terms.  Accordingly, I would like to offer my opinions as to the meanings of certain terms relevant to Web Advertising.

Web Site Roles (People):

  • Webmaster: This is a “catch-all” term generally used to refer to an individual who creates or maintains a web site.  Unfortunately, since anyone can create a web page using a standard word processor, the term has little meaning.  Sometimes, the term “webmaster” is used to refer to a person with some specific set of technical skills, but in such cases the assumptions made are almost always different than other uses.  The term “webmaster” is generally used to refer to a specific person, not an entire company.
  • Web Publisher: This is a more “professional-sounding” term to describe an ever broader group than “webmaster.”  A web publisher can include anyone who has created a web site or content for a web site, including people who have no actual involvement with the actual management or creation of the site.  The term “web publisher” generally refers to the entire enterprise, not just one individual, although the vast majority of web publishers are actually individuals.
  • Web Developer: Generally, this term is intended to refer to “webmasters” with more advanced technical skills or grander business plans than simply posting a basic web page.  The term may be used in some cases to refer to an entire enterprise (web publisher) or to a specific individual (webmaster or technical staff).
  • Affiliate or Associate (or Partner): These terms are often used to refer to web publishers who have enrolled in an “affiliate” program to earn commissions or bounties for referring customers to another web site.  Basically, these are web publishers who want to make money.

Advertising Roles (People or Companies): The terms “Advertising Network,” “Advertising Broker,” and “Advertising Representative” are often used interchangeably.


  • Advertising Salesperson: Anyone who sells advertising, including the web publisher or webmaster, employees or independent contractors, outside firms, and others.
  • Advertising Network: Generally refers to a company that represents a collection of web sites, and serves ads through a central ad server.
  • Advertising Broker: Vague term that is sometimes used to refer to an advertising sales person or company, ad network, or ad representative.
  • Advertising Representative: Preferably, this is used only to refer to an agency or individual selling advertising on behalf of web sites, but without actually providing an ad server function.
  • Advertiser: Anyone who seeks to place advertising on web sites.  In most cases on the internet, an “advertiser” is also a “web publisher.”
  • Advertising Agency: Many advertisers use outside advertising agencies to manage their advertising purchases.  An agency may or may not be “web-friendly” or “internet-friendly,” and individual staff members within an advertising agency will have varying amounts of understanding and interest in internet advertising.
  • Interactive Agency: Many advertising agencies specialize in “interactive” advertising on the internet, and many traditional advertising agencies may have an “interactive division.”  Note that this term is sometimes used to refer to an agency or division that creates web sites and web content, but which do not specialize in buying advertising on other sites.

Traffic Terms:


  • Hits: A “hit” generally refers to an individual file request to a web server.  Because many web pages contain many separate components (including text and graphic images), the number of “hits” is generally important only when determining the server capacity required to host a web site.  This term is meaningless in the context of web advertising.
  • Page Requests or Pageviews: These terms are generally used to refer to the number of times a particular web page is requested, or the total number of times any web page was requested at a site during a particular time period.  It is important to recognize that measurement of page requests (pageviews) is not consistent, and many page requests or pageviews may not actually be detected by a web publisher’s own measuring tools, due to “caching” and “proxy serving” and other technical activities.  In addition, page requests (pageviews) can be initiated by “web crawlers” (also called “robots”) or by other automatic methods that do not actually mean that the page was viewed by a human being.
  • Adview or Impression: I generally use these terms to refer to the number of times that an advertising message is requested.  In some cases, a page may be requested but image files may not be requested (the visitor may have images disabled to speed up viewing of text on web pages).  In other cases, advertising images may be “cached” or served through a proxy server.  These actions reduce the number of adviews or impressions.  However, some advertisers or ad servers utilize techniques that help defeat “caching” and “proxy serving” and therefore adviews may be counted more accurately than pageviews.
  • Cache-Busting: Any technique used to force a new request for an advertising image every time a visitor views a new web page.  Some techniques inflate the number of adviews, by re-loading an ad image every time a page is resized or revisited via the “back” button during a single user session.
  • Clickthrough or Click: This term is generally used to refer to a visitor’s action of clicking on an advertiser’s image or link.  Counting of “clickthroughs” or “clicks” will vary substantially because some systems only count one “click” per “unique visitor” (as tracked via IP address or “cookies”), during a specific tmie period (which may be as short as an hour or as long as 24 hours).  Often, special counting techniques are designated with a term such as “Unique Clickthrough.”
  • Cheating: This is a broad term intended to refer to any method which generates extra pageviews, adviews, or clickthroughs.  Cheating is an extremely pervasive and serious problem in web advertising, as unscrupulous web publishers devise techniques to artificially inflate the number of pageviews, adviews, or clickthroughs in order to enhance their revenue.  “Cheating” is a polite way of referring to Fraud.
  • Lead: A “lead” or “inquiry” generally refers to a web visitor who clicks through an on advertisement or link and subsequently completes a form to “register,” thereby identifying him- or herself to the advertiser for future inquiries.  Contest entries, quote requests, newsletter subscriptions, and requests for more information are all “leads.”
  • Sale or Transaction: This term is usually used to refer to a financial transaction in which the visitor clicks on an advertisement and then makes an actual purchase, most frequently using a credit card.

Web Advertising Schemes:

  • Impression-Based or CPM Advertising: In the “real world,” most advertising is bought and sold based on the number of “impressions” (readers, listeners, or viewers) who are calculated to have been exposed to an advertising message.  Such advertising is bought and sold using the measurement of “cost per thousand” (CPM).  On the internet, selling based on “impressions” or “CPM” means that pricing is based on the number of adviews, and not on any specific results from the advertising campaign.
  • Sponsorship: This term is often used generically to refer to any advertising arrangement.  However, the term is often used to refer to a payment to a web site for advertising that is not contingent on delivery of a specific number of adviews.  This type of arrangement is common for advertisers who seek to be the exclusive advertiser or sponsor for a web page or an entire web site.
  • Cost-Per-Click or Pay-Per-Click: Many (most) advertisers prefer not to buy impression-based advertising on the internet because they measure advertising campaigns based on “results,” such as clickthroughs or sales.  Advertisers who measure campaigns based on clickthroughs may prefer to pay sites for traffic based on the number of “clicks” or “clickthroughs,” as measured by the advertiser.  As noted above, the term “click” is usually redefined in these situations to refer to a “unique visitor” during a specific time period.
  • Cost-Per-Lead or Pay-Per-Inquiry: Advertisers who are seeking specific leads may prefer to pay a specific amount for each inquiry.  Usually, “inquiry” or “lead” is defined to be a new, unique lead that is validated in some manner.
  • Bounty: Some advertisers will pay a fixed “bounty” for each sale generated through an advertisement.  A “bounty” program pays a fixed fee regardless of the financial size of the actual transaction, and often reflects the anticipated “future value” or “ongoing value” of a new customer.
  • Commission-Based Advertising / Affiliate / Associate / Partner Programs: These terms are generally used to refer to advertising arrangements in which sites receive a percentage of the sales generated by visitors who click through an advertisement on the web site.  Thus, if I carry an Amazon.Com link on my site and a visitor clicks on that link and purchases a book, I will receive a commission based on the amount of the sale transaction.  Many programs limit these commissions to the first transaction only, or to new customers only.  The terms “affiliate,” “associate,” or “partner” are often used to refer to other programs (including pay-per-lead and pay-per-click programs).
  • Contract: This is a legal term referring to the agreement between an advertiser and web publisher.  In a few cases, advertisers or web publishers may require a written contract, but in most situations the contract is posted on the internet.  Often, a contract refers to additional “terms” or “policies” that are posted separately on the internet and which are subject to change.  It is absolutely essential that web publishers actually read and understand the contracts for each advertising relationship they participate in.  In many cases, contracts contain terms that will prevent the vast majority of “affiliates” from ever receiving any financial benefit from the advertiser.
  • Payment Threshhold: This term is rarely used, but almost every advertiser, ad network, and affiliate program contract includes language that states that no payment will be remitted until the web publisher has earned a specific “threshhold” amount.  In most cases, the “threshhold” is set at $25 to $100.  Small web sites should be wary of these clauses, since it may take many months or years for a small site to earn enough money to be entitled to payment.  In almost all cases, the advertiser does not specify how payment is handled if the advertising relationship is terminated before the threshhold amount accrues (for example, if the web publisher stops carrying the advertising, or if the advertiser cancels the program).
  • Tracking and Auditing: Most advertisers insist that their records and reports be used as the exclusive measure of entitlement to advertising revenue.  Some publishers utilize third-party service bureaus, such as BeFree, LinkShare, or ClickTrade to track advertising activity.  Some advertisers may prefer or require that web publishers utilize a third-party auditing service, or provide reports using software such as WebTrends or HitList.

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