Google has been suspended from a key accreditation service advertisers use to measure their ads

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A number of Google’s ad services have been suspended from the Media Rating Council (MRC) — a key accreditation service advertisers use to verify that their ads are being properly measured — over “non-compliance” issues related to the way in which it counts its ad impressions.

MRC announced Tuesday the accreditation status of Google DoubleClick for Publishers (DfP) “mobile web served display ad impressions” and certain desktop display ad measurements were suspended in September 2016. The MRC says it expects to reinstate accreditation once DoubleClick becomes compliant again.

In the meantime, Google has been forced to suspend the offending measurement metrics and hopes to have them resolved “by the end of the year.”

The reason for Google’s non-compliance appears to be a technicality related to guidelines the MRC updated in April, rather than any sense of foulplay, but it comes at a bad time.

Many advertisers are increasingly questioning the validity of the data they receive from huge ad platforms — not least after Facebook was found last month to have been over-inflating its video view metrics. (Facebook has apologised and rectified the issue.)

What happened

In April 2016, the MRC, alongside two trade bodies — The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) — updated their guidelines on how online measurement companies should count mobile web and mobile app ad impressions.

Those guidelines now state that an impression shouldn’t merely be counted when an ad server is called to serve the ad, but instead that there should be “reasonable assurance that the ad was rendered on the device in order to count it as a valid ad impression.”

In online ad measurement, “viewability” is extremely important. Advertisers want assurances that the majority of the pixels of their ad were viewed for at least a second or more (and most marketers demand far more than this) and that they were viewed by humans rather than a bot. When the data is taken from the ad server, before it has even loaded on a mobile web page or app, it’s very difficult to provide those kinds of assurances.

MRC-accredited companies had 30 days to update their systems, otherwise they would lose their accreditation. Google didn’t move quickly enough to make the deadline, and by the time its MRC audit came around, it wasn’t ready. It might take until the end of the year before Google can implement the changes.

Google has now been forced to temporarily suspend its DoubleClick for Publishers mobile web impression measurement and DoubleClick for Publishers viewability metrics until the matter is sorted.

A Google spokesperson sent Business Insider this statement:

“As the industry transitions to new metrics for how they count ads, we’re working closely with publisher partners, like Business Insider, to make sure they continue to thrive. We’re updating the methodology for our publisher ad server (DFP) to reflect the change, and are working towards renewed MRC accreditation for that methodology by the end of the year. We have dozens of ad metrics with MRC accreditation, all of which remain current.”

The impact on Google

It’s unclear whether Google initially intended to take its time, or simply whether its sluggish pace was because it is such a big organisation, delivering so many impressions and metrics for advertisers that it was a huge infrastructure undertaking to switch from measuring served impressions to measuring rendered impressions.

Google is often accused of being a “walled garden” because it makes money from both publishers and advertisers and occasionally restricts third-party ad tech companies from accessing its platforms. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook are often accused by advertising leaders of “marking their own homework” by giving out some viewability or other advertising metrics that haven’t been verified by third-parties. (Although both certainly do partner with scores of trusted measurement companies.) This won’t help Google shake either of those perceptions.

Mike Caprio, general manager of programmatic at ad tech company Sizmek, says Google losing its accreditation status is a prime example of why “playing both sides of the fence” is bad for the advertising industry.

Sizmek’s own testing found a “40%” discrepancy between ads that had simply been “called” and ads that were actually delivered. Discrepancies between the way Google and other ad tech companies measured such ad impressions were causing “confusion” in the marketplace, Caprio said.

He added: “For Google, what is most concerning is that they decided to prioritise the seller’s needs over the buyers. And what’s worse is that in most cases, as the dominant publisher ad server, they are the direct beneficiary through Google Display Network and AdX [Google’s ad exchange].”

“Independent measurement has always been vital to our industry, so the buy and sell side can have a fair market to do business. The industry needs independent, impartial measurement and campaign management that is uniform and balanced across all parties and through all forms of buying anywhere around the world,” Caprio said.

Headache sadness frustration lonely
A headache for Google. Pixabay

As for the real revenue impact on Google, that’s also uncertain. Google doesn’t break out in its earnings how much it earns from DoubleClick for Publishers.

Anywhere that Google makes money from display ad impressions will likely be directly, negatively impacted in the short-term at least. It’s doubtful that impact will be material as most fees for DoubleClick for Publishers are tied to SaaS [Software as a Service]-type repeat fees. And many ad buyers now demand that they are only provided with viewable impressions. However, Google does currently charge some clients on every impression served, so that will have to change.

What can be said for certain is that the issue has been an ongoing headache for Google since April and it’s still not easing off any time soon.

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