Building on a Foundation of Success: IAB Guidelines

Over the past week four major players in the online media space have announced accreditation to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Click Measurement Guidelines.  This list includes Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft and  I wanted to take a moment and explore why you should care about this development and what accreditation means for advertisers. The IAB is a publisher-focused organization that has led the process to develop click measurement guidelines.  The task force is made up of thirty or so companies representing the online advertising community.  Click Forensics has been a member since day one and participated in every step of the process. There are three main benefits for advertisers and conversely, three concerns advertisers need to keep in mind associated with the entire process.  First, the benefits; IAB Accreditation Represents a Commitment The process to become accredited to the IAB guidelines is time consuming and certainly not free.  At Click Forensics, we have first hand knowledge of this and can assure you that any company that takes time and spends the money to become accredited is committed to their customers.  The level of detail the auditors go in to is amazing.  Our community is fortunate to have auditors that have demonstrated a deep commitment to both the development of the process and the implementation of the guidelines. IAB Accreditation Demonstrates Leadership The IAB established a gating period to allow member companies and others to become accredited to the guidelines.  The companies mentioned above were the first to announce compliance.  This is important because it represents a sense of urgency among these four that enhances the urgency for others.  As an advertiser, you should reward these leaders with business.  They were first out of the gate and in my book that demonstrates leadership. IAB Accreditation Means Better Quality Traffic The IAB Guidelines are a lengthy narrative of “best practices” and rules in delivering quality traffic to advertisers.  While it is not intended to be a complete list, it serves as a firm foundation and includes practical steps to help ensure advertisers get what they pay for.  By working with an accredited ad provider, advertisers will be assured that the clicks they are buying have met the guidelines established by the industry.  This is a good thing and an excellent first step. While we applaud the efforts of the IAB, Media Rating Council and member companies who participated in this process, there are things advertisers need to keep in mind.  There was a great deal of discussion and debate during the nearly three years of meetings it took to develop these guidelines.  In that process, there were a lot of valuable and important items that fell to the floor.  This is a good start, not a perfect process.  Keep in mind the following; IAB Accreditation is a “Moment in Time” Process The process for an ad provider to become accredited is a long one.  The auditor is invited in for a pre-assessment then the actual audit begins.  At the end of the process accreditation is awarded.  The problem is there is no mechanism for ongoing compliance.  When we buy gas at the gas station there is a meter that is routinely calibrated to ensure that when we fill our tank with 20 gallons of gasoline, we get 20 gallons.  This approach is not taken nor addressed in the guidelines.  While an annual audit is suggested in the guidelines, it is still important for advertisers to be monitoring their campaigns and holding the ad providers feet to the fire for every click. IAB Accreditation Does Not Cover Everything The 27 page Guideline document is quite comprehensive.  Our task force worked hard to ensure that both the guidelines are made clear and that the standard for measurement is defined.  However, when you consider that the dominant constituency in this process was multibillion-dollar ad providers, you might imagine not everything met their liking.  A few examples of chaff that hit the threshing room floor included:

Click ID – Each click should have a unique identifier so investigations can be “apples to apples” Persistent Cookie – It’s important that ad providers can identify unique visitors to ensure they are billed for only once. Standards for Investigation – Advertisers deserve to feel confident that they get what they pay for.  By setting an investigation format and agreeing to a timeline, ad providers can build trust with customers. IAB Accreditation is a Roadmap There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Beginning is easy and continuing is hard”.  There is truth in this as it relates to the guidelines.  We have begun the process.  We have released guidelines that will make the world of online advertising a better place.  Now we should look to leadership to take the next step and continue what we have begun.  The current guidelines will serve as a roadmap to the future standards.  We need to examine the items removed, listen to the community and think of better ways to ensure advertisers get what they pay for in the future.  The roadmap has been built.  Now we need to move on. In January of 2006 as Click Forensics was just beginning as a company, I wrote the following challenge to our industry: “Define standards for what an unwanted click looks like. We believe that there are certain characteristics or attributes that are common to a large percentage of click fraud. We are working with publishers and advertisers to agree on common ground and work together to expose it. Once this is developed it should be published so that the entire community can benefit from it.” Today, over three years later, we have the cooperation of community leaders, the foundation of technical standards and the desire to continue to improve on what we have built.  I invite you, to join us as we build a future of ongoing growth and improving effectiveness by enhancing the process of online advertising.  I can assure you that both the Click Quality Council and Click Forensics will continue to support the work of the IAB and other industry organizations to work together to make our community a better place.  Let's not stop with the foundation. Tom Cuthbert