IAB set to move on auto-refresh

Australia’s online publishers are on the verge of agreeing a greater level of transparency over the controversial issue of auto-refresh, Mumbrella can reveal.

Tomorrow’s meeting of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s measurement committee will discuss a request from the Media Federation demanding more information on when auto-refresh is being used on sites.  

Mumbrella understands that the meeting will ask Nielsen to adopt a new metric for its web stats service whereby the data indicates which sites auto-refresh, and how often.

The IAB and MFA have been in talks over auto-refresh since the beginning of the year. The Media Federation, whose media agency members represent advertisers, wants to be able to tell what they are paying for.

However, the new initiative would still fail to meet the current standard set by the Audit Bureaux of Australia which only gives audit approval to non auto-refreshed sites.

The move by the IAB comes as business website Australian Anthill has published a stark demonstration of how it gamed its traffic statistics in a fortnight-long experiment with auto-refresh which saw its page impressions increase by 400% and its engagement numbers apparently go through the roof.

In a piece published today, publisher James Tuckerman revealed: “Earlier this year, we decided to add an auto-refresh code to our website for a period of two weeks. We advised the ABA that we would be doing so and the Bureau dutifully suspended us.”

The website was set to auto-refresh every ten minutes.

While there was no major change in the number of unique browsers, Tuckerman said there was a 400% increase in page impressions.

Australian Anthill page impressions

That issue is significant because of the way that online advertising is sold. Where advertisers pay on a cost-per-thousand model, Anthill’s experience suggests that sites using auto-refresh may be overcharging advertisers by four times what they should be paying. And where (the minority) of sites charge for an ad to appear for a certain amount of days on the site, the number of pages actually being viewed may be much smaller than the publisher claims.

The average time apparently spent on the page – or so called engagement – also dramatically increased for Australian Anthill with auto-refresh. Engagement is sometimes used as a metric to persuade advertisers that readers are loyal to a site.

Australian anthill engagement

Kerry Field, who chairs the MFA’s digital committee, told Mumbrella:

“The key issue with auto-refresh is that in some cases we are paying for impressions that are not necesarily initiated by the user.

“Australia has one of the lowest response rates in the world. I’m convined auto-refresh is a major factor. A lot of other markets don’t practice it.”

A further issue, said Field, is that the advertisers pay for the ad serving. Particularly with rich media unnecessary refreshes such as where a home page buyout has taken place, needlessly costs advertisers money, she warned.


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