Trends in the Advertising Industry – Tracking Codes

Trends in the Advertising Industry – Tracking Codes

August 13, 2021

11 minutes

Over the last year, the Internet has become a place of work, business, social, family meetings, and cultural events. This has further strengthened the position of the Internet as the fastest growing advertising communication tool. One of the advantages of this medium is the ability to collect information about user interactions with any ad.

Advertising codes serve as a perfect example because they provide a lot of detailed information about a campaign’s effectiveness, e.g .:

  • the number of ad impressions
  • the number of clicks on advertising creatives
  • time spent on a site
  • campaign reach

And these are just basic metrics.

Advertisers track more and more indicators and analyze new metrics to make it easier to understand how customers react to the advertising message. The current measures may turn out to be insufficient, which is why new tracking tools (tracking ad delivery) are used more and more often.

As a publisher, Listonic Ads often deals with ad-tracking codes in its campaigns. Sometimes these codes are problematic. This article aims to explain the tracking and broadcast codes and how you can use them.

Types of codes used in advertising campaigns

Advertisers use several types of codes that track various campaign parameters:

Tracking codes:

  • Impression tags – codes that count ad views. They can take the form of page views “pixels”, i.e. a graphic element invisible to the human eye. Once displayed, it counts the view of the advertising creative.
  • Click tags – codes that count clicks on an advertising creative. The click tags contain macros – code fragments that collect information about the user or the environment in which the advertisements are displayed. Macros can collect, among others, user identifiers and consent parameters for the disclosure of personal data.
  • UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) – parameters that, when added to a URL, allow you to define many variables for incoming traffic to the specific landing page (the website to which the advertising campaign directs). These can be the sources of the campaign’s broadcast, ad format, geolocation data, etc. UTMs can be part of a click tag. Combined with the Google Analytics code attached to the customer’s website, UTMs can analyze the user’s actions on the advertised website and therefore track everything that happened after clicking on the advertisement.

Most often, publishers receive a package with the ad creative and tracking code from advertisers. In that case, the advertising graphics are uploaded to the adserver (the system responsible for displaying ads), and then a tracking code is attached to the creative. This is a convenient solution because, in case of errors in the size or weight of the graphics, the departments dealing with serving ads are able to improve the size or weight of the creative so that it matches the requirements of the adserver. What’s more, in case of problems with the tracking code, the publisher is able to prepare a report and monitor the effectiveness of the displayed ads.

Challenges related to collecting campaign statistics by tracking code

The main challenge the publishers face while implementing a campaign is the fact that third-party measurements depend on user consent to use their data. Collecting consent on the web is already a standard, but in the mobile environment, not all publishers collect consent from users.

The standard related to the collection of consents is TCF 2.0 Transparency & Consent Framework, established by the IAB. All apps that belong to the Listonic Ads network have this standard implemented. Without it, campaign scopes, frequency and creative clicks would not be counted.

If the publisher has implemented TCF 2.0, the percentage of users who have consented to the use of their data by third parties (opt-in rate) might be 95%, 90%, 80% or 60 % depending on the app, country, and operating system. This means that tracking codes, even when implemented correctly and working properly, will not measure advertising events for users who have not agreed to it.

Therefore, it is good practice to take into account the number of clicks from the publisher’s report. This does not apply to pageviews. However, measuring the attribution of page views to individual users is already information that cannot be used by the measuring system if the users have not consented to it. This means that it is impossible to measure the reach of the campaign and the frequency of freq / capp page views per user.

For example, let’s take a campaign with the following parameters:

  • 1000 views targeted at 500 users,
  • Ordered freq / capp: 2 20 clicks,
  • CTR: 0.2% Viewability: 65%
  • Opt-in rate: 80% (400 people) agreed to use their data in counting systems.

Different counting systems will show this campaign in different ways. We assume that every advertising event is measured by the third part, which is unlikely to happen in real life. In the measuring system, this campaign might look like this:

  • 1000 views, 400 users,
  • Freq / capp: 2.5: overrun.
  • 16 clicks: lower than actual CTR: 0.16%
  • Viewability: 52%: lower than actual

The example is exaggerated. Some measuring systems will show e.g. viewability by counting them only for approved page views, ignoring those without consent.

Ad delivery codes

Another option used by advertisers in their campaigns is to provide publishers with ad delivery codes. To put it simply, the ad delivery codes first indicate where the publisher’s adserver is to download the ad and what creative is to be displayed, then they trigger codes measuring other indicators (views, clicks, etc.), and the last action is triggering the landing page URL (if the client uses Google Analytics – together with UTMs). Therefore, the issue code includes everything from graphics, tracking codes, to the landing page address.

Advantages of ad delivery codes:

In case the creative in the campaign or the tracking code changes, the advertiser may replace it on their side by directly interfering with the parameters of the displayed ad in their own adserver, without informing the publisher about it. However, this situation also has disadvantages.

Disadvantages of ad delivery codes:

  • After replacing an element of the ad delivery code (e.g. a creative), the advertiser is not sure if it will be displayed well on all devices. The publisher does not know about such a change, so they cannot verify it;
  • In case something does not work, the publisher cannot quickly fix the creative itself. The advertiser’s agency often does not have time to make minor corrections, as a rule only the critical ones are considered.
  • There is a set of standards in ads (standard size, no possibility of extending ads, causing margins to be left in some places). Each publisher has its own solutions that can go beyond the standard possibilities. Creatives served with emission codes are limited to the standard.
  • A long time of loading the creative itself and triggering other codes that are part of the ad delivery code – worse parameters such as the visibility of the creative or CTR.

Codes that measure viewability

It is an increasingly common standard on the market to measure the visibility of ads using codes that measure viewability. These codes monitor all page views of a campaign, as well as visible page views, the percentage of visible page views, i.e. Viewability Rate (VR), and many other parameters such as the place of ad delivery, geolocation of broadcast, type of devices, operating system etc.

What is a visible view?

The definition of viewability according to the IAB standard is the visibility of at least 50% of the creative on a computer or telephone screen for a minimum of one second.

Why are not all ad views visible?

  • The creative can load before the user scrolls the page/application to the place where it’s displayed. This provides users with fast and smooth browsing of content on the Internet (regardless of whether we are talking about the web or in-app environment), many elements, especially graphics, are loaded even before the user reaches them on their journey through the website.
  • The problem of lower ad visibility is greater in the web environment. Websites have more elements and it is not always possible to scroll the screen to the ad.
  • In mobile apps, the viewability rate usually reaches much higher levels, because the relatively small screen area and the specificity of the content presented do not require preloading many elements, and the entire content of an app is most often displayed on the entire surface of the phone. However, the level of visibility in the in-app environment will depend on the nature of the app and the way ads load.

Visible page views in apps share the same definition and criteria as desktop and mobile page views in a browser, but require a different methodology and are associated with certain limitations.

Another challenge of the mobile environment is varied user behaviors and internet connection speeds. The smaller screen size means that smartphone users scroll through the visible portion of the screen much more often. A mobile connection, on the other hand, can sometimes be slower than a desktop connection, so the user may leave the site before the ad is fully downloaded.

The solution to this is the production of MRAID formats (Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definition) and the implementation of Open Measurement (OM) SDK (Software Development Kit) measurement standards on the adserver side and in the publisher’s app. OM is an open-source initiative by the IAB that allows app developers to integrate several SDK vendors through a single, unified standard.

However, remember that clients who measure campaign performance on their side with a single code, deliver it to both the web and in-app publisher. These are very different environments and many codes designed for the web will not work properly in the app, and the results of measurements of indicators of interest to the customer will not be reliable.

Beyond the environmental issues, visibility metrics (like other online ad impression statistics) can vary methodologically depending on the definitions and systems used. There are also differences at the level of metrics describing visibility, which is due to the operation of the algorithms themselves in the systems being measured. Depending on how they are written, there can be (and usually are) differences between systems in measuring: the number of total ad impressions, the number of measurable impressions, and the number of impressions classified as viewable.

When attaching any measuring codes to an adserver, the publisher must remember to place them appropriately on the adserver and, in some cases, to change the macros collecting information about the user into strings of characters compliant with the technical requirements of the adserver used (some adservers are equipped with a function which automatically changes the most frequently used macros into the appropriate strings of characters and this does not have to be done manually).

Summing Up

The current realities of the advertising market and the increasing desire to control campaign performance mean that the use of various measurement codes has become a market standard. When broadcasting an ad campaign using any codes, advertisers should keep in mind the nuances that affect the effectiveness of the tools they use. These discrepancies result, among other things, from differences in tools used by publishers and advertisers, incorrectly generated, to incorrectly linked codes. A good practice that makes the publisher able to react quickly to errors is comparing their own results with the client’s statistics (for campaigns in Listonic Ads this is a standard procedure). When dealing with impression codes, it is the advertiser’s responsibility to fix the miscounts.

You also need to keep in mind that not all codes collect parameters universal to web, mobile and in-app environments, so codes will not work well on every type of device.

More and more often advertisers analyse various indicators of advertising campaigns in order to better optimise their activities and advertising budgets. The increasingly complex tools offered by code providers are therefore a natural response to market needs. However, one should remember that visibility metrics, like other online ad impression statistics, can vary depending on the definitions (counting methodologies) and systems used. So it’s good practice to compare counts by ad publishers and find out the nuances that cause different tools’ metrics to disagree.

The digital marketing industry has been functioning for years in the process of dynamic technological changes and, in our opinion, only current monitoring of methodologies and technical solutions of various client tools as well as open and constant communication between client – publisher and code provider allow to determine which of the statistics are closer to real results of the campaign. Therefore, when running campaigns, it is worth taking into account that not everything will work in every environment and co-create know-how with the publisher issuing the advertisement.