7 ways to minimise Ad impression discrepancies

With the digital channels and technology evolving and getting smarter day by day, each impression is valuable and at risk too. As a standard practice in the digital advertising world, there are independent ad servers for advertisers and publishers to manage and monitor their campaign. This approach provides with numerous gains for each party, but since they calculate impressions at different points i.e. an advertiser counts impressions when an ad is delivered and publishers count when there is an ad request, the reporting does not match. The digital advertising ecosystem lacks a common system to coordinate, manage and report data about impressions, ad viewability and verify fraud. This inability of digital systems to coordinate between multiple systems leads to incorrect revenues for publishers and advertisers and even the third parties. This difference is known as impression discrepancy. Since, the publisher delivery numbers are usually more than the agency reporting numbers the difference of a range of 5-10% is considered as acceptable. If the difference exceeds beyond 10%, the publisher would have to look into the concerns causing the difference and may have to ask third-party agencies to take care of the impressions missed in their reports.

Digital advertising inventories include parties that depend on a shared set of rules for ad delivery and rely on third-party APIs for performance tracking. When parties require merging of all the data, it calls for multiple third party tools to track reporting across all digital mediums. Since there are multiple parties involved in tracking and reporting of single ad impression activity, discrepancies are bound to happen. This not only leads to market inefficiencies but also invite actions by people that create lack of transparency.

Let’s understand this by an example as to how discrepancy is evident for real and it is through the information provided by the safety vendor. There are various algorithms running that filter and categorize the inventory into eligible inventory and the fraudulent inventory, and these considerations may vary on a daily basis. One domain could perform on the top for one safety vendor but can see buyers opting out of buying placements on same domain from the other safety vendor. This is a problematic situation for an operations manager, as they can see the advertisers retrieving the money they have already paid after the inventory was purchased leaving the supplier’s cost uncertain. Also, there have been cases where the fraudulent impressions occur but there is no data recorded on ad servers. Due to this unrecorded data, suppliers find it difficult to track inventory providers after the campaign settlement period is over. This is quite similar to a business selling fraudulent product and once the complaints start pouring in, it is found that no such business was in place or either the owner started the business under a new name and many such cases.

How is discrepancy calculated?

It is the difference in the impressions count of both the parties (publishers’ & advertisers) over the publisher’s impression count.

Cause of Impression Discrepancies (or the difference) and how to mitigate them:

The difference in the reports from publishers and agencies

Pull out the reports on your own and investigate the missing data. Normally publishers report more impressions than the advertisers and the advertiser will pay for the lesser impressions based on their count ultimately leaving publishers with the less than they expect. One of the best ways to resolve this issue is by creating daily reports that need to be updated by the publishers as well as the advertisers. This would help in understanding where the difference is and what strategy needs to be taken in order to rectify the discrepancy.

Ad tags missing from the page templates

This is yet another reason for discrepancies. Look out whether the same tags run on the publisher as well as the advertiser server (i/e. The local server and the third party server). The template pages that need to be thoroughly checked for the missing tags include category pages, blogs page (in case a third party CMS is used) and the search result page. Discrepancies can also occur if the ad tags are displayed in a specific country only and the analytics tracks the global ad performance. This issue can be handled by matching the ad ID’s between both the systems as ad ids are the unique identifier. Make sure you track impressions on 3rd party server with each id on local server. While monitoring if you found out that the ad tags you created are not working fine, you can ask the 3rd party network to issue a new tag that can help in reducing the discrepancies.

Latency issues

This is really a problem as to how long any page takes to load and how long the user could stay on the page. Check for the file size against your ad specification, as it could lead the user to move to next page even before the ad loads on the website. For some ads that contain videos, heavy images or content for that matter calls for the polite download technique in which the content is embedded in a small file that first loads with the page followed by the heavy content. Sometimes it happens that the advertisers mistakenly place the tags in the deferred section, causing a higher discrepancy rate. Thus, to minimise discrepancy, one must ensure quick loading of ads.

Caching and the authorization of Cache busters

This is yet another potential reason that the latest browsers cache & store all the third party data such as ad tags and code so that it does not need to call every element every time the site is loaded. Along with this many publishers utilize website caching, due to which the advertiser servers cannot see the new ad request ultimately leading to discrepancies in impressions. The best solution to add an active piece of code that is a unique number which ensures the ad impressions are recorded at the advertisers end too. This piece of code is known as the cache buster. Both the publisher and the advertiser have their cache buster in place. Though many publishers do not require cache buster as they do not use ad servers. Implementing cache-buster is a manual process and is achieved by a shortcode termed as a macro.

Ad Blockers or other Intermediaries

They have the power to block the call between the systems and are considered to be the major source of discrepancies. With much anti-virus software offering the functionalities to block the ads that might trouble the user, there has been a tremendous rise in the ad blocking. An ad blocker prevents the ad to display whenever there is an ad request. When this happens, the web page gets loaded without the ads being displayed. In this, the impressions are counted without any revenue. There are various ad verification systems that prevent the ad calls based on aspects such as unwanted page content, undefined geographies etc but this verification system also help in getting the required information about the reason as to why and on which page the ad is blocked.

Ad servers operating on different time zones

Data and reporting management from different time zones may lead to impressions discrepancies due to chronological differences. One must ensure reporting from similar time zones or try to set up reporting system in such a way that track report with the same date and time preferences.
The next move?

The best ways one can reduce discrepancies is by working with the marketer directly and get new tags and codes. Although, one can try to tackle discrepancies by understanding the reasons mentioned above and by following the process explained above. But if in case it happens that the discrepancies still persists, try to submit a case to the third-party questioning the reason for the discrepancy. However, this is the last option and might not yield anything fruitful.

2 thoughts on “7 ways to minimise Ad impression discrepancies”

  1. Fantastic blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get opinions from other experienced
    individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let
    me know. Bless you!

    1. Thank you! We will be starting our community soon for the publishers and ad ops specialists from across the globe. In the meanwhile, do sign up for our newsletters, we keep posting best practices and latest adtech news.

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