Lies, damn circulation lies and spend your marketing budget with me……

by Philip Ingram MBE

Before you spend your marketing budget you must read this article. It is designed to help any company using an online outlet for marketing, suggests that some may publish what can only be described as circulation lies and gives you some tips that less scrupulous media outlets don’t want you to know.

“I’m afraid we can’t provide those statistics because of the Data Protection Act……… The statistics are a lot lower than normal as we have just moved our web servers and lost a lot of the historical data ………… since we moved servers with the new company our web traffic has doubled……….don’t worry the video views on YouTube are low because everyone viewed them on our webpage and we had thousands of views …. Believe me gov…..We print 5000 normally but have doubled our print run for all these events……”

Ever heard any of these statements backing a bid for your marketing budget but justifying why real statistics for audience engagement can’t be provided?  If you have, there is only one conclusion you must come to – you are probably not being given the completely truthful picture.


The only statistic that is difficult to verify in the B2B publishing business is print circulation.  The number of magazines printed times an estimated number of times each magazine is read is what is usually quoted and the industry standard is very variable for what that is.  However, for publishers, the physical magazine is the most expensive product they have to produce so some will give a publisher’s statement saying how many they publish but the reality is usually significantly less.

I know of publishers who keep a “Key Influencers” list and is it only they, those that shout and a small % of the usual database that get regular copies of a publication, others, when asked, get an excuse. The only way to properly verify a print circulation is if it is signed up to the Audit Bureau of Circulations or ABC who independently audit circulation. The other way before advertising is to ask for a copy of the latest print run purchase order (with pricing removed) and that will prove how many are printed.  Distribution is a different issue.


Now online marketing is the way forward we are all told. “Let me put your banner on my website for X hundreds per month an let me send your PR out to my database of Y’000’s …..” This is where the count Dracula laugh should come in…… you are having your marketing blood sucked out of you if you believe publishers statistics for your message being delivered either of these ways.

However, there are reputable media outlets and they will happily give you real engagement statistics, you just need to know what to ask for and what is real and what is dodgy.

Real comes from a statement from an independent 3rd party or a screenshot of their statistics.  Beware of Google Stats.  Google tends to give preference to those sites found through google products and downplay sites from non-google products – their statistics can be misleading.  If a publisher offers you only a google analytics statement – beware as they are hiding their real stats.  I was shown on site that thought it was being clever with a visitor counter on its front page, the only trouble was every time you visited the page, the counter went up by 3……


Most banners are put onto a website through a 3rd party plugin so a weighting can be applied to them, impression, click and other statistics can be gathered – the best source of the statistics for your banner is directly from that plugin either by a ‘share stats’ function or a screenshot clearly showing all of the detail, not just one graph!

Anyway, when was the last time you clicked on a banner to get to a website? I bet you can’t remember, Banners are only good for ‘brand awareness.’


All email marketing providers such as Mail Chimp, Active Campaign etc provide very detailed statistics and have a ‘share statistics’ function to get the detail on the campaign you have bought emailed from them directly to you – if for some reason the publisher can’t do it (eg they are using a free or low-cost version) then a screenshot of the stats page as a whole is what you need.  Do not accept anything less!  That will tell you how many addresses your ‘e’shot was sent to, how many it was delivered to, how many engaged with it and how many clicked on it and how many unsubscribed or bounced…. All useful stuff!

I have seen another publication take the real email statistics and multiply the numbers by up to 10 before sending on to their clients!


Videos are hosted on a video hosting channel such as Vimeo or more usually YouTube.  If you want to see how many views that have had just look at the hosting channel stats.  If someone views that video, even if it is embedded in another site, the view is recorded on the channel stats. If the page views you are being told doesn’t equal video views on the YouTube statistics then people didn’t view the video!  Simples….


This is one area where the largest amount of bluffing goes on.  Much of it through ignorance.  You get 2 types of visitors to a website – human and automated electronic.  The majority of visitors are automated electronic and the reason is all of the search engines are constantly “sniffing” every website for new content so the search engines are constantly sending out “BOTS” from all of their servers across the globe searching for new content – if you are running an advertising campaign, this is only useful to signpost humans to the content.

Human visitors are the most important and only make up a relatively small percentage of total visitors to a site and what you tend to find is that some people come back 2,3 or more times.  As you can only influence one person once – the statistic you need is Unique Human Visitors. The only way of generating additional visits from Unique Human Visitors is by improving the content on your website and driving more traffic to it.  It can’t be done by swopping servers or the like – it takes hard work!

I ran a website that had 50,000 unique human visitors per month.  Real visitors varied from 41-42 thousand one month to 52-53 thousand another month.  Through improving content and SEO the site was growing in visitors by about 15% per year and that was a rapid growth and took a lot of work posting 8-10 pieces of quality content per day.  I knew if the content volume or quality ever reduced then the traffic would drop dramatically.

Content is what is key and it must be unique, keyword optimised and correctly structured with properly researched and written metadata.  It is the metadata that the bots use to find the content and signpost the humans to look at it. The Metadata work took almost as long as writing the original articles.

Any company that says its traffic has jumped massively (50+k per month) is probably not being honest. The best way to check website traffic is to ask for screenshots of the server statistics or if sites are running them, third-party analytical tools such as Lead Forensics, as these give independent views of traffic.  None will ever be completely accurate but they will be in the right ballpark.  Remember – Hits does not equal visitors!


This is another area where numbers get prone to exaggeration.  Followers and Following numbers are published on each social media platform by an organisations account – ask them to list their exact numbers then do a quick 2-minute check.   The only anomaly was when LinkedIn allowed bulk posting into many groups as often as you wanted as some groups were very large – this has been stopped.  So, if any organisation says they have a social media reach of over 100K then take it with a huge pinch of salt and check….

The bottom line is – don’t get caught out and if you need any advice just contact the team.

This article is written by Philip Ingram MBE for Grey Hare Media who specialise in effective content aimed at getting your message heard. As well as producing content the team can advise on how to ensure it is used most cost effectively. Not being aligned to any particular publication or outlet you can rest assured our advice will be purely in your interests. Contact the team for help.