Not All Ad Impressions Are Created Equal

Ian Lester

It’s really easy when you’re chasing the CPA dragon to overlook some of the fundamental differences in how ad networks actually calculate what an ad impression is.

While this term is used interchangeably across every ad network, how this unit of measurement is actually calculated varies drastically.

The advent of charging for viewable impressions is a major improvement in advertising technology. It’s also the most accurate measurement model for recording ad impressions.

This is especially true in the adult ad space where many bad actors are exploiting an advertiser’s lack of technical knowledge of how impressions are actually recorded.

For many advertisers, the underlying technical models used by ad networks to measure when an impression actually occurred, can be a confusing mess of terms and techno double speak.

However, in reality, there are just three key technical concepts that, once understood, will give you a significant advantage in the marketplace. These are: ad requests, ad tracking pixels and ad viewability.

Let’s get started; it’s not as technical as you think. I promise!

Are You Tracking My CPM Campaign By Requests?

This is the adult ad industry’s dirty secret and it’s a practice that needs to be stopped. It’s also the most important question any knowledgeable advertiser can ask an ad network. But what exactly is an “ad request”?

Well, the use of ad requests as a measurement model for an impression dates back to the mid 1990s when advertising networks used raw server logs to calculate when an ad was shown. In general, if there was one HTTP “request” from anybody or anything in their server logs for your advertisement, you then would be charged for one impression.

The problem with this method of measurement for tracking impressions is that there is no validation done to confirm the advertisement was actually shown to a real person.

This gives birth to a lack of visibility, and the ability to distinguish between legitimate persons and illegitimate traffic such a spiders, robots and impression fraudsters. It causes the cost of your advertising to increase dramatically, because you have to purchase more impressions to generate a sale. Be very wary and adjust your CPM rates accordingly.

If an ad network says yes, that they sell banner impressions on requests, as much as 25 percent or more of impressions could be illegitimate. Sadly, this is still very common in adult.

The good news is that, in the early 2000s, a new more accurate measurement model for counting ad impressions was created that solved this problem. It’s also the second question you should ask every ad network.

Are You Tracking My CPM Campaign Using A Tracking Pixel?

To solve the issue of proving the ad loaded, in addition to a request, many ad networks now include a tracking pixel (also known as a beacon or web bug) to verify that the ad was actually displayed.

But what is ad pixel tracking? This is when in addition to your advertising creatives being requested, a small, hidden and transparent 1x1 pixel is placed alongside it. The surfer never sees this tracking pixel but their web browser recognizes this as an additional image to load.

When this tracking pixel is loaded alongside your ad, you can be more certain that your banner actually loaded.

This double verification process is considered mandatory in mainstream advertising ad networks. The fact that many adult ad networks still use request tracking instead, against IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) standards, is utterly reprehensible.

While pixel tracking was a major step forward for advertisers when it came to stats accountability over request based tracking, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Most notably: how do you know if someone ever even visually saw the ad?

Are My Ads Actually Visible To Surfers?

Above the fold, below the fold. Any serious CPM marketer knows, the location of the ad on the page directly impacts the CPM price that should be paid. Because why would you want to pay for ad impressions that were never actually seen by a surfer? The IAB has suggested that over 50 percent of ad impressions are never even viewed. Think about that for a moment. Over half of your ad budget is completely wasted.

This is where a new measurement model called CPMv comes into play. CPMv stands for “cost per thousand viewable ads.”

In addition to containing a pixel tracker, an impression under the CPMv model is only recorded when at least 50 percent of the ad itself is visible in the surfers web browser for at least one second after the ad finishes rendering on the page, while the window is in focus.

Leading ad networks such as Google have already implemented this new IAB standard, and many others are following suit.

We at Grand Slam Media believe that, not only is it the future, but it’s simply the right thing to do. That’s why we made it the basis of our new ad network, Adnium.

The advent of charging for viewable impressions is a major improvement in advertising technology. It’s also the most accurate measurement model for recording ad impressions. Traditional ad networks that rely on counting impressions by requests and even tracking pixels are now outdated, and are doing advertisers a disservice by not accurately reporting true ad views.

Now you know how important it is to understand the method being used by a given ad network to count impressions. While many of those in adult appear to be stuck in the past, we are hopeful that in time, the situation will improve for the benefit of all advertisers.

Ian Lester, lead developer at Grand Slam Media, has more than a decade of experience in programming, advertising and traffic generation. Lester is touted as an expert in the field and has become well-regarded among the technology circles of the adult entertainment industry. Lester can be reached at