Two of Google's metrics have been suspended from a key accreditation service used to measure ads

sundarpichai Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Two of Google's ad measurement metrics have been suspended from accreditation from the Media Rating Council (MRC) — a key accreditation service advertisers and publishers 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.

Google hopes to have the issue 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 and publishers are increasingly questioning the validity of the data they receive from huge platforms — not least after Facebook was found last month to have been over-inflating its video view metrics. (Facebook has apologized 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.

The two metrics suspended were Google's DoubleClick for Publishers mobile web impression measurement and DoubleClick for Publishers viewability metrics — which publishers use to verify their ad impressions — until the matter is sorted. Not all of its measurement products have lost their accreditation — all of its advertiser-facing tools are still accredited, for example. (The full list of accredited services can be found here.)

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 organization, delivering so many impressions and metrics for advertisers and publishers 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 prioritize 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. It's doubtful that revenue impact will be material as most fees for DoubleClick for Publishers are tied to SaaS [Software as a Service]-type repeat fees. And on the ad side, many buyers now demand that they are only charged for viewable impressions anyway. However, Google does currently charge some clients on every impression served to publishers' websites, so that will probably have to change to pay-when-rendered if it wants to meet the MRC accredition standards.

Anywhere that Google makes money from publishers' display ad impressions will likely be directly, negatively impacted in the short-term, at least from an operating cost perspective, as it builds the technology required to measure rendered impressions.

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.

Get the latest Google stock price here.

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