This article is a summary of the impression measurement processes employed by Flashtalking for Desktop and Mobile environments, including a general description of our measurement methodology, filtration, and reporting processes. These processes apply to both standard display ads and rich ads.
Flashtalking is an independent ad serving, measuring, and technology company, providing best-in-class digital advertising products, service, and support for online advertisers, key media buying and creative agencies.
Our products lead the agency ad server market and facilitate the management, delivery, and measuring of all forms of digital advertising across desktop, tablet and mobile. Core aspects include display (including standard ads, dynamic, rich media, video, HTML5 & mobile), search, social and affiliates.
For MRC accreditation, this document focuses solely on standard display ads and rich ads (to include expand, heavy, page takeover and roadblocks) on Desktop, Mobile Web, and Mobile App. All other impressions and click measurements are out of scope.
Note on MRC
The following metrics are MRC Accredited:
- Desktop Impressions Rendered
- Desktop Viewable Impressions
- Desktop Undetermined Impressions
- Desktop Non-viewable Impressions
- Desktop Measured Rate
- Desktop Viewable Rate
- Desktop Percent Viewable
- Desktop Percent Non-Viewable
- Desktop Percent Undetermined
- Mobile Web Impressions Rendered
- Mobile App Impressions Rendered
All metrics are net invalid traffic except those explicitly flagged as "unfiltered" which may include impressions that are later flagged as invalid.
Creative and Campaign Creation
As Flashtalking provides an ad-serving platform, we do not have direct control over the premise of client-initiated counting. We provide publishers with instructions for proper implementation of the ad tags and also assist the publishers with the integration of their creative; however, proper implementation is the responsibility of the publishers.
Users may utilize the interfaces to insert and preview creative, as well as set creative delivery preference; therefore, the platform user can maintain control over the order entry and campaign management procedures. Flashtalking maintains instructional guides as part of their online help tool and Campaign Managers assist publishers with issues related to ad tag implementation.
The IAB guidelines state that:
"A Rendered Impression across all display marketing channels is the measurement of responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user's browser, which is filtered for invalid traffic and is recorded at a point as late as possible in the process of delivery of the creative material to the user's browser. The ad must be loaded and at minimum begin to render in order to count it as a valid rendered impression."
Video ads such as VAST XML ads are out of the scope of this document.
To minimize under-counting due to caching, the ad serving platform employs a mechanism designed to trigger a cache flush, which results in any content in the file being ignored and automatically retrieving a new copy, as well as random numbers being appended to the requests. In line with the IAB guidelines, we use the HTTP cache-control response headers 'cache-control', 'pragma' and 'expiry.
In cases where the creative is not capable of displaying, for example, due to an out of date browser, an alt image is served instead.
All measured impressions are census-based and not sampled.
It is recognized that there are some situations, out of our control, that may result in the under or over-counting of ad impressions. These cases are hard to quantify and are not considered to be at a level to warrant specific action. Such situations could include:
Ad blocking software
Ad blocking software may be implemented that could potentially result in the under or over-counting of impressions, depending on the configuration of the software and what it is designed to block.
Pre-fetch and Pre-rendering
Flashtalking does not fire impression rendered or viewability events while a page is in a pre-fetched or pre-rendered state. Pre-fetching may cause a “Count on Decision” event to fire, but the ad will not be counted as an Impression Rendered, or measured for viewability, until it has been rendered on the page. Standard rules apply to pre-rendered pages, utilizing the Page Visibility API to determine if the ad is being loaded on a pre-rendered page and waiting until the page enters a visible state before rendering the ad.
When a user begins to type a URL to a site previously visited, Safari may predict a complete URL from the browsing history and pre-load the page and ads in full to accelerate navigation speed. As Safari renders this pre-loaded page in a way that's indistinguishable from a standard displayed page, ads will be counted as Impressions Rendered after they are loaded onto the hidden page. That said, the Ads are not double-counted when the page is eventually revealed to the user. However, there is a small risk of over-counting Impressions Rendered (in terms of what was potentially visible to a user) if the browser is closed or the user navigates away from the predicted page before the pre-loaded page is displayed.
As Flashtalking’s ads are called from a parent tag on a page, they are unlikely to be affected by pop up blockers. However, we are unable to prevent 3rd parties from implementing our ads within a pop-up.
In the unusual instance that a pop-up blocker does block the ad from rendering, no impression rendered or viewability events will fire.
Data Accumulation and Editing
Both the initial ad requests and the event tracking pixels are logged by the servers. We utilize multiple servers to provide sufficient capacity, and each of the servers maintains its own log files, which are copied and processed on an ongoing basis. No real-time log file reformatting is performed by the servers.
A combination of automated and manual processes and controls are employed to retrieve and determine the completeness of each file processed. These include checks to determine if each was processed exactly once, checks for corrupt files based on the unique key naming convention used for the log files and data consistency checks.
Log file retrievals and processing
The following is a brief description of the items logged and their use in the process:
- IP Address: The Internet Protocol (IP) address represents the address of the user making the request. This is used in the filtering process, including the identification of non-human activity.
- User-Agent: A text string provided by the browser contains certain information about the browser, such as type and version.
- Event Time: Date and time the impression event was logged by the server (stored as UTC).
- Request: The specific request to the logging server, including the identifying information relating to the content selected by the ad server such as:
- Site Address: Identifies the associated publisher site calling for the ad placement
- Campaign ID: Identifies the respective campaign
- Placement ID: Identifies the respective placement
- Creative ID: Identifies the respective creative
- GUID: Global User Identification (from a cookie or created by the system if no cookie exists)
- Event type: Event type code identifying the nature of the recorded event (the type of impression event, click and so on)
Other data events (outside the scope of the MRC audit), such as further log event descriptors and optional parameters, may be captured as a means of incorporating additional information within the log events.
Raw log data is maintained for a period exceeding the one-year requirement.
Flashtalking carries out several checks on the impression data to reduce the effects of bias, distortion, and inaccuracy, using General Invalid Traffic techniques. These procedures include checking for:
Flashtalking validates log file fields to determine if data are of the correct syntax/type and certain required fields are present. In situations where validation tests fail, the individual log entries will be excluded from reported event counts. During the measurement process, certain entries are omitted from being recorded in the logs, as they represent situations in which the log entry indicates an unusable log entry such as:
Errors - Entries in which the server did not understand the request and therefore assigned an error code status to the request as rejected
Incomplete/corrupt log entries - The processing requires certain fields included in the impression rendered event to be found, complete and accurate. If any of these fields are missing or incorrect the log entry is rejected
In accordance with the MRC Minimum Standards and the IAB Guidelines, two approaches are applied to filtration:
A dual-pass specific identification approach is used to filter robotic activity on the front end, using the IAB Industry Robots list to remove log files with user agents listed as a known robot user agent string and excluding activity from user agents that do not match the IAB Industry Valid Browser list.
The rule engine obtains the IAB Industry Robots List and the IAB Valid Browser List using predefined fetching rules and checks for changes to these files every 24 hours. If an error occurs while obtaining or parsing either of the lists, an email alert is generated and sent to the monitoring team. These alerts also inform the team if the file has not updated within a specified time frame or the fetch fails.
Robot Instruction Files (robot.txt) are also held within the root directories of the server domains.
During the filtration process, log items are marked for exclusion from reporting but maintained regardless of validity.
Activity Based Identification
The raw data is scanned on a daily basis to check for activity that may have been generated by automated systems (robots) and a daily data set is created, identified by the combination of IP address and GUID, of activity falling outside of specified thresholds on the following attributes:
- Clicks on viewable creative, which do not have a matching impression in the last seven days
- Max ad requests per hour
- Max clicks per hour
- Total clicks
- Total ad requests
This dataset is then assessed manually to make the final decision to exclude further events from the offending GUID and/or IP address.
Flashtalking provides six separate metrics related to invalid ads:
- Invalid Desktop Ads Requested
- Invalid Desktop Impressions Rendered
- Invalid Mobile Web Ads Requested
- Invalid Mobile Web Impressions Rendered
- Invalid Mobile App Ads Requested
- Invalid Mobile App Impressions Rendered
All are the count of ads flagged as invalid based on the above filters either after the asset has been requested but has not begun to render or after the asset has begun to render on the page.
Flashtalking considers filtered impressions to be Material IVT if they:
- Exceed an established percentage of daily impressions for the campaign; and
- Come from a single notable source that has supplied a minimum threshold of impressions that day; and
- Are judged to be Invalid Traffic after further investigation
Flashtalking reviews IVT activity-based filtration thresholds on a quarterly basis and reviews policies and documentation annually. We employ automatic and manual processes to monitor traffic for suspicious activity to flag for investigation, based on analysis accounting for volume, traffic source, user agents and pattern analysis. Our filtration process is MRC accredited and we conduct regular reviews to ensure thresholds and methodology remain relevant, accurate and up to date.
Relative to the traffic volumes of live campaigns, the level of traffic from internal users (predominantly due to testing), is considered negligible, so no action is taken to block these stats.
The logs are processed multiple times through the day, to generate aggregated event totals for each of the various reporting criteria.
The reporting database is populated using the final aggregated database files. The database feeds the reporting applications.
Data Processing/Software Quality Assurance
Capacity and Processing Controls
Flashtalking employs automated monitoring tools to track CPU usage, disk space, usage, bandwidth, and so on, including automated alerts if certain thresholds are exceeded, as well as maintaining automated procedures to determine if the logging server log files have been collected and processed. Certain data quality and integrity checks, using primarily automated techniques, are maintained to assess the completeness of the data and to inspect the data for potential issues prior to reporting.
These checks and tools include:
- Monitoring tools to determine all logs have been received prior to processing
- Monitoring of new ad server log files written to the processing servers
- Cross-checking among data sets to determine if various data tables are consistent when aggregated to a common data set
- Monitoring and daily review of summary data provided by different data centers, for consistency of processing
- Manual checks performed for certain clients
- Trending of errors recorded in the log files
For MRC accreditation, we are focusing solely on reports generated by the Reports tool. All other reporting access methods are out of scope.
Reports containing rendered impression data are available electronically via the Reports interface. The interface enables the user to customize the data they wish to obtain either as a one-off, or a scheduled report.
Data in the reports can include the accredited impression rendered counts, but also includes all other metrics, which are not currently MRC accredited, such as Clicks, Interactions and Spotlight data.
Processed reporting data is available up to 18 months after the campaign end date.
Date and Time
Date and time metrics within the reports are displayed in accordance with the international standard ISO 8601.
Time zones - The date and time within the reports are calculated as local to the geographical location of the Flashtalking office managing the campaign.
- UK - UTC
- US - EST (UTC-5)
- DE - CET (UTC +1)
- AUS - AEST (UTC +10)
Date - Notation of dates is YYYY-MM-DD
Week - All weeks start on Monday and end on Sunday and the weeks are numbered week 01 - week 52 (ISO-8601).
Time - Notation of time of day is hh: mm: ss
If permitted by a user’s browser or device, Flashtalking may utilize data from a 3rd-party, MRC-Accredited vendor to determine the user’s geo-location by IP address. This geo-location data is used for creative personalization and campaign analytics, not for the buying (“targeting”) of ad impression inventory.
Re-issuance of Data
We have automated and manual checks in place to monitor the processes that may affect reportable data. In the event of issues being identified, the appropriate corrective actions are taken within 48 hours, wherever possible. Data re-issued will be deemed to be significant and require re-issuance where the number of affected impressions is greater than 50,000 and greater than 5% of the number of impressions already attributed to the campaign in question. Notifications of possible changes to data will be available in the reports information file.
Business Partner Qualification
As part of a Business Partner Qualification process, Flashtalking may review the credentials, credit, business history, industry presence, client references, independent certifications, and other factors, to determine whether to partner with vendors or begin relationships with new customers. If Flashtalking becomes aware of or suspects any material changes in the information relied on as part of our Business Partner Qualification procedures, Flashtalking will investigate and re-assess the qualification to determine whether to continue working with said vendor or customer. Violations of our platform Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) may lead to immediate termination of access.
New customers will be required to acknowledge Flashtalking's adherence to the provisions of the MRC's Invalid Traffic (IVT) Detection and Filtration Guidelines, and to commit not to knowingly purchase, sell, generate, or in any other manner monetize or facilitate Invalid Traffic. Flashtalking emails all active users of the platform an annual reminder of the IVT guidelines and expectations.
Flashtalking relies on cloud providers, data centers, and content delivery networks (CDNs) for the delivery of ads and collection of impression-level data necessary for user analysis and invalid traffic filtration. All of our primary services maintain an industry-standard ISO 27001 (Information Security Management) certification.
Date last updated: 2019-06-26