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Peace talks held over autorefresh rates for websites

The explosive confrontation between website owners and media agencies over the use of autorefresh to inflate page impressions appears to be closer to a resolution after the key players met to discuss the issue.  

Although the question of how often it is reasonable for a site to refresh a page has been a live one for years, the debate has reached boiling point in recent weeks.

Those who defend the use of auto refresh point to the fact that it is reasonable to refresh some pages often, such as news home pages and latest sport scores.

But media buyers argue that they can end up paying several times to reach the same reader on the same page, without there being transparency about it.

Yesterday saw a meeting between the Media Federation of Australia, which represents media agencies, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents media owners, and the Audit Bureaux of Australia which launched a web audit service last year.

A statement said: “A meeting yesterday between representatives from the MFA, the IAB Australia and the ABA resulted in a greater commitment towards standardisation and transparency of online audience metrics. Senior representatives of the three industry associations met in response to recent industry debate about online measurement metrics, in particular those of auto-refresh.”

The debate became heated late last year after the MFA wrote to members urging them to be more demanding of transparency from the big media owners. The letter warned of “auto refresh and double counting issues”. It said: “These are important factors that put your clients’ investment at risk because they may be wasting valuable ad-spend on audience reach that doesn’t exist”.

MFA president Gary Hardwick, from media agency Ikon, said in the letter: “The truth is in the detail and for sites that are not audited, can we believe the numbers?”

It came days after the ABA published its own research suggesting that auto refresh was having a huge impact.

Describing it as a “smoking gun”, the ABA’s Alexx Cass wrote: “The impact is enormous, with page impressions essentially doubling and session duration being so vastly inflated to the point of being unusable as a meaningful metric.”

A further factor for advertisers is that where they pay a cpm – a price per thousand times their ad is served – not only might they be overpaying the media owner, but they pay for the extra adserving costs too.

Shortly afterwards, Maxus digital director Ben Shepherd wrote a blog posting calling for more transparency. He wrote:

The issue right now is not enough sites have not taken part in an audit with the ABA – or if they have, they haven’t passed. The list of sites that are not audited currently are some of Australia’s largest

– all ninemsn sites

– all Fairfax digital sites excluding the AFR

– all News Digital Media sites

– all Bigpond sites

– all Yahoo! sites

And Neil Ackland, boss of online publisher Sound Alliance published his own research into refresh rates. He revealed:

Here’s the list of sites I’m aware of that use auto-refresh. As you can see we are not talking about amateur set ups here:

  • SMH homepage – auto refresh of 5mins
  • Sportal – auto refresh of 6mins IT Wire – auto refresh of 15mins, all pages
  • Lifehacker – auto refresh of 15mins, all pages
  • Weatherzone – auto refresh of 10mins
  • Gizmodo – auto refresh of 15mins, all pages
  • Zoo weekly – auto refresh of 15mins
  • RSVP – auto refresh of 60mins
  • Essential Baby – auto refresh of 5mins
  • Business Spectator – auto refresh of 4mins
  • Real Estate.com.au – auto refresh of 5mins
  • Kotaku – auto refresh of 15mins, all pages
  • Defamer – auto refresh of 15mins, all pages
  • One source told Mumbrella that the atmosphere has been tense over the last three weeks with “the F word – fraud – being bandied around”.

    However, the major media players now seem to have accepted that changes will have to be made, and they should follow within a couple of months. While autorefresh may continue, its use is likely to be limited to certain pages where it can be justified, and standards will be set for how impressions delivered via autorefresh will be presented in data.

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