What is happening with the ABA’s web audit for AU?

I ran a post here towards the end of 2009 that got significant views – it was around the issue of media agencies demanding ABA audited data from their publisher partners.


Alexx Cass, the ABA’s Digital Watchdog made the following comment

“Also stay tuned – in the new year I will publish a case study of what actually happens to web traffic figures when you add auto-refresh code and then remove it.

“The amount of inflation is *much* larger than you think, with Session Duration hit the hardest!”

I also touched on the fact NONE of the IAB’s board member publishers are audited. I have even heard many have refused to be audited.

Personally, this is probably the first major issue facing the industry – the media agencies anyway – of 2010 but it seems like there’s almost an air of complacency around it all.

Therefore, it’d be great to see Alexx’s case study. I have seen it – I have the document – and it’s compelling reading.

It would be great to get a statement from the IAB around this and an idea of when we can expect the likes of ninemsn, NDM, Fairfax Digital, Yahoo! and Bigpond to either submit to audit or publicly refuse.

Makes sense to me – between  these 5 companies the amount invested from advertisers would be in the vicinity of $300m+. $300m+ and they can’t even prioritise an audit that protects the advertisers that fund them?



10 responses to “What is happening with the ABA’s web audit for AU?

  1. Key buying decisions are increasingly being influenced by engagement metrics, therefore it is absolutely vital that a practice like auto-refresh, that is proven to over-inflate engagement figures is stopped.

    If auto-refresh has minimal impact on traffic as the publishers using it claim, then what’s the issue with turning it off?

  2. Here is the link to the “Real Impact of Auto Page Inflation’ case study: http://bit.ly/91rfVs

    To summarise the two cases where auto-refresh was used:
    Page Impressions DOUBLE
    Session Duration QUADRUPLES

    Enough said?

    So I agree this is easily the #1 measurement issue at the moment. On that note, I’d love to hear what other issues should be on our radar in 2010 – so everyone please let me know!

    Although the post above focuses on IAB publishers, this practise is not limited to these publishers so we certainly do not intend to single them out. For the record, the ABA is supportive of the IAB (after all we share many of the same members) and furthermore we will continue to collaborate closely with all industry bodies for the benefit of the industry.

  3. If you explained the usual metrics to an advertiser who was new to online and then told them about auto-refresh you would put them off online for life.

  4. It’s encouraging to read Alex’s comments to not single out IAB members or any other single or groups of publishers and to reiterate that the IAB through it’s Measurement Council has been working with and continues to work with IAB Members, the MFA and the ABA on a wide array of current online measurement issues.

    Auto-refresh is just one of many issues being addressed. At this point we are reviewing all of the arguments for and against auto refresh and we will listen to the MFA in particular, and the ABA and anybody else who wants to contribute and follow the processes we have put in place within the Measurement Council to arrive at a sensible and truly industry representative position, which we will then comment on publicly.

    At this stage I would say that the IAB and it’s members are very much committed to the standardization of online audience measurement metrics and any other best practices that will simplify and therefore promote the planning and buying of online advertising.

    With respect to the specific issue of auto-refresh, we agree there is a requirement for standards to be set, and that there may be circumstances in which page auto-refresh is warranted, such as live and breaking news, sports scores, and stocks data for example.

    The IAB is meeting with the MFA and the ABA next week in fact to progress this issue and others so that together we can all arrive at a broad industry set of standards and guidelines that are endorsed by all publishers and make it clear to agencies and advertisers alike if, when, where and how auto refresh is being applied.

    We, the industry that is, will together continue to address the other issues such as metrics, hybrid, cross-platform and a multitude other measurement challenges that are being tackled by IABs, publishers, agencies and advertisers globally.

  5. talkingdigital

    Hi Fish – I’m not pointing out IAB board members etc … all I’m saying is there appears to be complacency from the IAB and its members around the issue (I’m not saying there is – it’s just there’s no public display of action). Auto-refresh is a big issue (amongst others – all yield related generally) and the inflation it causes to pageviews would alarm most marketers. I am doing a piece to run on Spectator soon and some of the comments I’ve received around the issue are pretty interesting.

  6. I wouldnt mind knowing exactly where the problems are.

    I visit most news sites most days and I like that the pages refresh so that thew news remains new.

    There are good reasons to refresh pages so perhaps we should understand a little more about it before we label it “bad”.

  7. Ben,
    Agree with your comment that auto-refresh is a big issue. That’s why we need to make decisions in the interest of the industry and that takes consultation, which takes time.

    The lack of public displays of action to which you refer are not due to any complacency, in fact the opposite is true. The consultation process among ~50 IAB members, the MFA and the ABA is still going on. It would be irresponsible for the IAB to comment publicly until the IAB Measurement Council, IAB members, the MFA, and invitees such as the ABA, have debated this issue thoroughly and collaborated to come up with a truly industry-representative position that we think will benefit the industry.
    I believe this process should be carried out with due diligence and among the designated specialists within the various industry bodies and their members in the established regular forums, and not necessarily in the blogosphere!
    The IAB is committed to contribute to an industry-agreed set of standards and best practice guidelines regarding auto-refresh which will make it clearer for advertisers and planners & buyers, not blanket-banning the counting of auto-refreshed impressions.

  8. Please. The “F” word. The ABA is hardly an uninterested party in this.

    Anyone who is buying online space and doesn’t know the actual numbers, processes and architecture for a property shouldn’t be buying.

    And if the buyer controls the delivery of the content then they have all the numbers they need. The publishers all know what they are doing and what their various numbers are and if the buyer is doing their job they do too.

    Just like all other media – counting is about much more than keeping the buyers onside.

    Agreed reporting standards are a basic requirement for the industry. Surely after a decade that’s happened. The ABA has no real role here except to be beating the bushes for business.

  9. We’ve just detected another site that has recently been experimenting with auto-refresh. Their Avg Session Duration has been inflated from 4 mins to 32 mins. 4 mins was already enough to lead their category, so 32 mins is clearly overkill and undermines the credibility of metrics in this market.

    jerrys says “Anyone who is buying online space and doesn’t know the actual numbers … for a property shouldn’t be buying”

    When buying based on engagement, is he suggesting that it’s the media-buyers responsibility to somehow see through 32 mins and correct it themselves? Are they supposed to do that for the 1000+ sites reporting market metrics? And keep track every day? And know all the rules inside and out?

    With this audited site in question, we proactively detected this breach in the rules, explained the issue and they have subsequently removed the auto-refresh code. This site will receive the ABA green tick of approval from next month onwards. When a media-buyer sees this green tick, they can have confidence in the figures knowing that an independent body is ensuring the numbers are as accurate as possible. I hope competitor publishers in this category will also be pleased to see such overt inaccuracies being cleaned up. This helps everyone.

    In our role as watchdog, with this one action we have made a small but tangible improvement to the credibility and reliability of the market metrics, which leads to more dollars invested online. We’re not just talking about improving things, we’re actually doing something about it every day. That’s a role that our members see a lot of value in.

  10. Pingback: Looks like some progress is being made on the ABA’s web audit … maybe … « talking digital – Ben Shepherd

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