More programmatic ads found violating IAB guidelines

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Almost a third of programmatic ads breach guidelines set by International Advertising Bureau (IAB). The conclusion, based on a report by data analytics company Ad Lightning, indicated that 28% of the ads did not follow industry standards during Q4 of 2016 and into the first month of 2017.

Titled "The Ad Quality Report for Publishers (Q1 2017)", the report studied programmatic ads across 50 popular publisher sites. It found the gap between industry guidelines set by IAB and actual industry practice was wide. The report also noted that the cumulative effect of "bad ads" increased average page load times by 100% on desktops and mobile sites. The delay caused by the offending ads, called website latency, is severely impacting publisher revenues.

According to Aberdeen Group’s "The Very Real Costs of Bad Website Performance", a second delay leads to an 11% drop in page views and 17% reduction in customer satisfaction. Doubleclick’s "The need for mobile speed: How mobile latency impacts publisher revenue" report noted mobile sites that loaded within five seconds doubled their ad revenues than those that took 19 seconds.

According to the Ad Lightning report, five major issues contributed to the infringements. They include oversized ads, over-requested ads, processor-intensive ads, ads that were not SSL encrypted, and intrusive ad formats that were non-compliant or unsupported.

Understanding the problems

Of the five, oversized ads were the main culprit for the 28%. Forty-one percent went beyond industry-approved maximum, with nearly 10% exceeding 5MB.  IAB banner size guidelines put the standard size for banner ads of the initial load at 200KB or less. The report also noted that some ads reached nearly 30MB of size, slowing down page downloads significantly.

The way programmatic ad platforms work is contributing to over-requested ads. According to the report, the average number of network requests and tracking scripts per ad was 56. It is 3.7 times greater than what IAB suggests.

The main reason is that programmatic ad platforms tend to use a complex computational process to determine which ad to deliver to the particular customer. It takes time and adds to the page load delays. To address this, IAB suggested 15 network calls per ad unit for the initial load. However, the report noted some of the ads had a higher number of network requests and tracking scripts.

Everyone understands the processor-intensive ads can slow down page loads. However, the report noted that 32% of the ads were processor intensive. These ads, which were often videos, tend to use up more than three seconds of the CPU time to render the ad in a browser.

Data leakage and user data protection seem to have taken a back seat for a large percentage of ads. Although IAB strongly recommends the adoption of HTTP/2 encryption, on average 51% of network calls made by a single ad were found to be non-SSL compliant.

Lastly, the report revealed that intrusive ad formats could be detrimental to the customer experience. Most of these formats tend to be for video ads.

A key example is Flash-based video ads that are not supported by Google Chrome. It can lead to page load delays when calling such an ad. Another problem is auto-play video ads which play once the user loads the page, leading to rising customer dissatisfaction. It is a concern that impacts even reputable publishers. The report noted that "the impressions are often sold to the advertiser as pre-roll impressions but are served within banners instead."

Despite all these concerns, the report found four percent of the video ads used the Flash format while 19% of in-banner video ads came used the auto-play format.

Moving forward

The report offered four essential advice for publishers to improve ad quality. Firstly, they need to understand how ad quality issues impact page load times and customer experience.

It also reiterated the importance of following IAB guidelines closely and invest in monitoring technology. Moreover, as adtech grows in complexity, recruiting or seeking advice from SSP Partners will offer clarity to current and new issues.

Essentially, the conclusions of the report are a wake-up call for the entire ad and ad platform industry. As page load times continue to frustrate customers, many are turning to ad block technologies. It reduces ad reach and the impact of well-planned campaigns. The losers will be ad industry as a whole.

Further reading:

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