It’s Time For Publishers To Be More Transparent About Ad Refreshing 

"The Sell Sider" is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Adam Schenkel, Senior Vice President, Global Commercial Development at GumGum.

We’ve all been there: We’re reading a fascinating article or blog on the web when a glistening ad appears. However, the catchy ad disappears before you can click on it, and another appears in its place. It can be a frustrating moment for a consumer who was eager to click on that ad. 

But imagine being the advertiser who paid for his/her ad to appear on that slot, only to see another ad appear in its place. The advertiser may not have known his/her ad would be replaced with another ad – sometimes a competitor’s ad – within seconds. Imagine that level of frustration.

The revolving door of ads in one slot on a web page is known as ad refreshing or ad reloading. The common practice of ad refreshing isn’t new, nor is it a problem. What is a problem is the lack of transparency some publishers provide to advertisers prior to selling the ad space. 

In the age where transparency has proven to be of utmost value to the public, it’s time to set an industry-wide bar on ad refreshing standards. It’s time for publishers to be transparent with their advertisers. 

There are plenty of publishers who are fully candid with their clients and users about how they practice ad refreshing. 

But the same isn’t true across the industry. 

Publishers have been employing the use of ad refreshing for more than 10 years. The practice has increased as technology has made it easier than ever for publishers to deploy this practice. 

But on top of the quick time change, ad quality varies widely when publishers use ad refreshing. For example, the quality of an impression that is reloaded after 20 seconds, regardless of whether it is in view, will differ from an impression which reloads after 20 seconds of cumulative attention.

The varying techniques of ad refreshing, on top of the lack of information given to advertisers, calls for the need to create industry-wide standards. Without minimum standards, advertisers are unable to determine which types of refreshed impressions to target and value accordingly. It also diminishes the user experience and may cause users to avoid certain web pages because of the disruption of varying ads. 

"Publishers that invest in creating engaging content and rich user experiences should be able to maximize the attention they capture," said Babac Vafaey, VP, product management at Sovrn. "The current ecosystem, however, does not best support this – publishers who maintain the quality of their advertising inventory through reloading are unable to differentiate themselves from those who do not, and advertisers are unable to make informed decisions and be efficient with their marketing strategies."

Together with our friends at Sovrn, we are proposing two ways to increase transparency and raise the bar when it comes to ad refreshing: One is a proposal for best practices for the refreshing of ads and another is a proposal for standards for communicating refreshed inventory. 

Best Practices for Refreshing

  1. Ads should never be refreshed if:
    1. A user is in a separate tab from which the ad appears
    2. More than 25% of the ad or 50% of the page content is obfuscated by another window
  2. Ad reloads should only be triggered when at least 51% of the ad is in view
  3. The minimum amount of time before an ad refreshes should be 30 seconds of “dwell time” on the web page
  4. The minimum amount of time before an ad refreshes should also be 15 seconds of cumulative “viewable time,” when an ad is 51% in view
  5. The number of refreshes per ad unit per page session should be capped at five
  6. Ad refreshes should not be initiated if the user has not triggered more than 10 “engagement events” with the page (for example, mouse movement) 

Standards for Labeling “Refreshed” Inventory

  1. Publishers should label the inventory as “refreshed” within their partner supply-side platforms (SSPs), including where possible:
    1. The type of refresh initiated – event, action, engagement or time-based
    2. The refreshed impression’s position within the sequence of refreshed ads
  2. SSPs that currently do not accommodate labeling inventory as “refreshed” should seek to enable publishers to label this inventory accordingly
  3. Open real-time betting (RTB) protocol should adopt an ad refresh signal for inventory that states:
    1. The inventory is refreshed
    2. The type of refresh initiated – event, action, engagement or time-based
    3. The refreshed impression’s position within the sequence of ads served

Some publishers may believe these standards will decrease their overall revenue, but that claim hasn’t been proven. What has been proven is that there is a lack of transparency, trust and information across the industry when it comes to ad refreshing. It’s time we set new standards in place so that advertisers can use their marketing dollars more effectively and users can have better experiences on the web. 

Follow GumGum (@GumGum) and AdExchanger (@AdExchanger) on Twitter.

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