IAB Hints at Impression Guidelines

NEW YORK — The Interactive Advertising Board says it’s making progress toward stamping out impression-measurement discrepancies and unveiled a number of general definitions to that end — though specific guidelines will likely have to wait until closer to the end of the year.

Four months in the making, the guidelines will recommend best practices for the consistent counting of impressions — ideally reducing the myriad measurement problems facing the industry, in a process that IAB president and chief executive Greg Stuart called “a megillah.”

At present, the guidelines are being reviewed for approval by bodies working with the IAB on the issue — groups like the Advertising Research Foundation, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the Media Ratings Council.

Once they have signed off, Stuart said the industry will have surmounted one of its biggest hurdles to date — one that will better position Web advertisers to compete for traditional marketing budgets.

In the meantime, the Alley-based IAB used the occasion of its annual meeting on Tuesday to outline some preliminary definitions, to share its overall thinking on the matter, and to drop a few hints on how the guidelines might be structured.

George Ivie, chief executive of the Media Ratings Council, spoke before IAB membership and described a series of definitions for terms including “ad impression,” “total visits,” and “unique users.” Generally, the terms define one “count” beginning when content is delivered from the Web server or ad server — rather than, say, as a page request from a browser.

An advertising impression: The measurement of responses from an ad server … to an ad request from a user’s browser … which is recorded at a point as late as possible in the process of delivering creative to the user’s browser.

Total visits: One or more text or graphics downloads from a site that qualify as at least one page, without 30 consecutive minutes of inactivity, which can be reasonably attributed to a single browser to a single session.

Unique users: The number of different browsers, within a designated reporting timeframe, with activity consisting of one or more visits to a site or the delivery of pushed content. Each browser is counted only once.

Page impression: The response from Web server to a page request from the user’s browser … recorded as close as possible to the opportunity to see the page by the user. This includes pop-ups, though those must be classified as such.

Ivie said the guidelines would consider only two ways of counting visitors or users: via user registration or login, or via cookie. Tracking via IP address, thus, would not be enough.

The guidelines are also likely to feature rules on filtering — that is, a way of ignoring the erroneous page views generated by bots and spiders — and disclosure of counting practices.

“The discipline driven by strong filtration procedures, the standardization of the measurement metrics, disclosure and auditing specifics will improve the consistency and accuracy of Internet site and ad-server measurements, providing the enhanced confidence advertisers and agencies need,” Ivie said. “Hopefully these guidelines will eventually reduce agency reconciliation time also, which is an added benefit.”

Added Stuart, “This becomes the building block of deals with other media.”

While the guidelines are due out within a matter of weeks, IAB representatives say there’s more to be done. A second phase of the project to weed out discrepancies will include an ABCi process audit of eleven major online media companies, to determine hard numbers for how many discrepancies turn up in impression measurement due to specific counting methodologies.

On Tuesday, the IAB also updated members on where it stood with regard to rich media guidelines. Former DoubleClick rich media senior manager Nate Elliot, who headed up the IAB rich media task force, said the IAB’s initial guidelines were largely successful in establishing baseline standards that most major sites could follow.

Now, he said, the time is right for “pushing the envelope … to concentrate on the future.” Specifically, he recommended the IAB consider guidelines on floating ads (also called “takeover” ads) and the tracking of multiple ways of interacting with creative.

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