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IAB to release new ad serving standards
Tuesday, January 15 2002
by Matthew Clark

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The Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US will release new standards for on-line ads as the global market for Internet advertising remains in the doldrums.

It is expected that the new standards will no longer count hits from search engines when calculating the total number of times an Internet ad was viewed.

When a search engine such as Google or Alta Vista searches the Web using programs known as spiders, webcrawlers and robots, ads on the pages detected by the search engines record a "hit." This means that when advertisers tally the number of times their ad was viewed by users, the count could include some page impressions where no one has actually viewed the ad.

But under the new standards these results will be excluded and a centralised list of such agent-based search sites will be kept.

Additionally, the new standards will dictate when an ad can be considered "viewed,". Currently, when a user enters a Web page, an automatic request is made to retrieve advertising, which may take longer to load than the rest of the content on the page. If the user leaves that page before the ad is fully loaded, a hit will not be recorded under the new IAB standards.

While many advertisers and Web sites already use standards and technologies that keep more accurate ad serving records, it is thought that the discrepancies in the standards of defining when an ad is served could lead to an inflation of figures by as much as 15 percent. And since advertisers pay for ads based on how many users view them, these inflated figures result in millions of dollars of advertising spent on ads that have not been seen by users.

With advertising in general, and on-line advertising specifically, facing a severe downturn in the US these new standards, when introduced, should encourage advertisers to invest more in on-line campaigns since they will now receive more views per dollar spent.

"All of this points to a variance of descriptions in how serving an ad is defined," explained Colin Joyce, director of advertising at Adculture. Joyce went on to say that there is a difference of opinion in terms of defining what a page impression is compared to a page view. According to Joyce the former can merely record when a page leaves the server, such as through detection by a search engine, while the latter requires that page to be fully downloaded to a browser.

While the IAB's decisions in the US have little sway in Europe, where IAB Europe generally defines standards, Joyce admitted that more uniform measuring standards would be a benefit to advertisers in Ireland. Moreover he said the introduction of high-speed Internet and DSL, as well as better ad serving practices by some companies, would also help to alleviate any discrepancies in the measuring of ads that do not download as fast as page content.

Internet advertising in the United States declined 4.1 percent in the third quarter of 2001, totalling USD1.792 billion. This compares to figures from Q2 when the Internet advertising market recorded sales of USD1.868 billion, according to the IAB's own figures. For the first nine months of 2001 revenue came to USD5.55 billion, compared to USD6.06 billion for the first three quarters of 2000, down 8.4 percent.

But in Ireland, in a growing Web advertising market, which Joyce describes as "still developing," the market was worth over IEP1.5 million in the third quarter of 2001, according to a survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in Ireland. (IAB Ireland). Its survey shows that Web advertising accounts for almost one percent of total media spend in the Republic and the figures for the fourth quarter, to be released in the coming weeks, are expected to show growth in the industry here.

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