Industry standards for measuring clicks and video impressions/viewability
The current Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation certifies that:
- Google's 'Google Ads' display and Search Clicks measurement methodology and 'AdSense' ad serving technologies adhere to the industry standards for click measurement
- Google Ads video impression and video viewability measurement as reported in the Video Viewability Report adheres to the industry standards for video impression and viewability measurement
- The processes supporting these technologies are accurate. This applies to Google’s measurement technology which is used across all device types: desktop, mobile and tablet, in both browser and mobile apps environments.
The industry guidelines were developed in an effort coordinated by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the MRC to govern how interactive advertising clicks are counted and how invalid clicks are detected and handled. The audit against these guidelines was conducted by a CPA firm engaged by the MRC to perform the audit.
You'll find a summary below of the click measurement process employed by Google Ads and AdSense. For additional resources, please visit IAB/MRC Click Measurement Guidelines, which provide a description of the IAB standards for counting online ad clicks. You can also view Google’s accreditation letter.
What is Google accredited for?
- The specific accredited metric is "Clicks"
- Desktop and mobile web and in-app device types
- Search and Display ad formats
What is included in the audit process?
This audit is focused on Google's pay per click, video impressions and video viewability advertising systems. Google provides these advertiser-facing solutions through Google Ads and publisher-facing solutions through AdSense and YouTube.
Only the Video Viewability Report is submitted for MRC Video Metrics accreditation
Google advertisements may be administered to users through the following products or services: AdSense for Content (AFC), AdSense for Domains (AFD), AdSense for Search (AFS), Ad Exchange (AdX), YouTube and Google.com. AFC relates to advertisements displayed on the pages of a partner site, where the context of the information on the page is used to determine and display relevant advertisements. AFD relates to advertisements displayed on the pages of a particular domain, where the domain name itself is analogous to a search query. AdX relates to advertisements displayed on participating partner sites, where the context of the page and real-time bidding is used to determine and display relevant advertisements. YouTube relates to advertisements displayed on YouTube.com or in the YouTube app, where the context of the video and search queries are used to determine and display relevant advertisements. AFS and Google.com relate to advertisements displayed as paid results within the context of search engine query and results.
What is not included in the audit process?
Google's non-video impression-based advertising solutions, such as Google Marketing Platform, and systems which measure clicks for non-commercial purposes (such as Google search) are outside of the scope of this audit. Other systems outside the scope of this audit include related support and management systems such as Google Analytics. In addition:
- Google Ads report builder and other dashboard video metrics aren't part of the accreditation process.
- OTT and Other device types are also not part of the accreditation process.
- Video campaign and App campaign Clicks are not a part of the MRC accreditation process for Clicks.
- Dashboard metrics segmentation (for example, demographics) beyond display and search campaign totals and device type segmentation, aren't part of the MRC accreditation process.
Click measurement methodology
The measurement methodology is based on all click activity recorded, and doesn't utilise sampling for the purposes of click measurement. Only stage 2.2 of the IAB click referral cycle (measured clicks) are directly observed by Google. With respect to the click-referral-cycle, upon receipt of the initial click transaction by the ads redirect server, Google Ads records the click and issues a non-cacheable HTTP 302 redirect to the browser based on the location established by the Advertisers for the specific advertisement. This constitutes the measured click. The click measurement methodology is the same across all device types (desktop, mobile, tablet) and for browser and mobile apps unless otherwise noted.
Furthermore, currently, parallel tracking is an optional feature for advertisers who use click measurement for Search Network and Shopping campaign traffic. Parallel tracking sends customers directly from your ad to your final URL (landing page), while click measurement happens in the background (without sending them to the tracking URLs first).
Ads can be displayed on mobile devices that are supported by the Google Mobile Ads SDK (see a list of currently supported platforms).
A known limitation of this method of measuring clicks is that a network interruption may cause a user who successfully receives a 302 redirect to not be able to view the resulting advertiser website.
The counting methodology utilised is the multiple-click-per-impression method. Consequently, to avoid inappropriate counting of navigational mistakes (for example, multiple clicks per user), we require that the time between a given click and a previous click on the ad impression is greater than a specific period of time.
Logs are generated and processed in real-time, storing all data associated with observed HTTP transactions. Numerous variable and heuristic techniques are utilised to implement the click filtration systems, which won't be enumerated here to protect their security.
Both Google and their partners deliver the advertisements to users; however, Google maintains control over and performs the processes related to measurement and advertiser reporting of click activity. When a user clicks on an advertisement, whether delivered by Google or a partner, via any one of the products administering the product, the click activity is tracked by Google Ads through the ads redirect servers.
Measurement of click activity is based on the Google Ads click measurement methodology, which utilises a technology infrastructure to manage and monitor click events. A click is recorded (measured) when Google Ads has received an initiated click and sends the user an HTTP 302 redirect to the advertiser landing page or website (or other intermediate server such as an advertiser's agent). These measured click events are recorded to data logs within an event file system. The data log files are then accumulated, edited and compiled through fully automated processes to produce click measurement and advertiser reporting. The editing process includes the process of filtering erroneous or corrupt data, identified non-human traffic including robots and other automated processes, and other identified invalid click activity. The filtered clicks are considered invalid, which means they are not billable to the advertiser. Google prepares click reports for advertisers which can be directly accessed by the respective advertiser.
Click measurements can be reported aggregated by geographical location (not subject to MRC accreditation) and device type. Geographical location is based on the user’s IP address or from a publisher-provided location (publishers must obtain user permission to provide such location). Note that some traffic may be routed through a service provider’s proxy servers and so might not correctly reflect the user’s actual locations (for example, mobile carriers may proxy mobile traffic). Device type classification (computer, tablet and mobile devices) is based on information from the HTTP header-using libraries operated by Google.
In some AdSense implementations, partners render ads on their own site subject to their own design and formatting rules and control the clickable area around the ad. In these implementations, adjustment of this area is beyond Google's control. In regular AdSense implementations, Google both controls the clickable area as well as renders the ad impression directly to the end user.
Video impression and viewability measurement methodology
Google allows Google Ads users to create video campaigns, upload and manage creatives and set bidding strategies and related targeting for their campaign. Google Ads video ad content must be hosted on YouTube; however, these video ads can appear on YouTube and on video partner sites and apps across the Google Display Network (GDN).
Google’s proprietary Interactive Media Ads Software Development Kit (IMA SDK) is integrated directly into the YouTube video player, the YouTube mobile app, or video partner sites and apps to facilitate communication between the video players and the ad server for video measurement. Google maintains two versions of the IMA SDK, one which supports Flash and the other which supports HTML5. The IMA SDK is a Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) (versions 2.0, 3.0 or 4.0) with a compliant tag implementation used to measure both linear and non-linear video ad content to serve and track digital video ads. The IMA SDK also supports Video Player Ad-Serving Interface (VPAID) (version 2.0) that allows the video ad and video player to communicate with each other, as well as Video Multiple Ad Playlist (VMAP) that allows multiple ads to be played within the video ad content.
All measured YouTube video ads included in the video viewability report are delivered in-stream. For video ad impressions, measurement utilises the count-on-begin-to-render methodology. When properly implemented by the video ad content publisher, the Google Ads IMA SDK solutions are consistent with the Video Impression Guidelines requirements regarding post-buffering initiation of the measurement event. Upon receipt of the measurement event, Google maintains control over subsequent processing and reporting. Google Ads uses a combination of user-agent and mobile app SDK data from internal and external sources to classify device types. Google Ads doesn't rely on any third party to perform classification.
In some instances, continuous play is a factor, such as when Autoplay is active or the user is viewing a video in a playlist. When this is the case, certain rules are followed. When using Wi-Fi, continuous play will stop automatically after four hours. When using a mobile network, continuous play will stop if you have been inactive for 30 minutes. Please refer to https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6327615 for the latest and most accurate details on this feature. Approximately 15% of video traffic is auto-play.
Google indicated that companion display ads are measured independently of video ad impressions and aren't reported in the Google Ads Video Viewability Report; as a result, measurement and reporting of companion display ads are excluded from the scope of this engagement.
For video viewability, Google Ads utilises the Active View description of methodology to measure viewability as reported within the Google Ads reporting platform. Google Ads counts a viewable video impression when at least 50% of the video ad creative appears within the viewable area of a user’s browser/app for two continuous seconds.
- Third-party filtration is not used by Google.
- Robot instruction files (robots.txt) are employed.
- Sources used for identification of non-human activity: Google uses the IAB/ABCe International Spiders & Robots List, as well additional filters based on past robotic activities. The IAB Robots List exclude file is used.
- Activity-based filtration processes: Activity-based identification involves conducting certain types of pattern analyses, looking for activity behaviour that is likely to identify non-human traffic. Google's Ad Traffic Quality team has systems in place to determine any suspicious activities and does such activity based filtering appropriately.
- All filtration is performed "after-the-fact" and passively. That is, the user (browser, robot, etc.) is provided with their request without indication that their traffic has been flagged, or will otherwise be filtered and removed as Google does not want to provide any indication to the user agent that their activity has triggered any of Google's filtering mechanisms. In some cases front-end blocking is also utilised, when it is likely that the resulting ad request may lead to invalid activity. Historically, less than 2% of ad requests are blocked.
- Processes have been implemented to remove self-announced pre-fetch activity.
- Processes are in place to allow publisher test clicks and video impressions. These processes support publishers adding a specific tag to an ad request to indicate that the ad request is a test request and should not be counted for any billing or official accounting purposes.
- When inconsistencies or mistakes are detected, processes exist to correct this data and provide refunds to advertisers. These refunds are reflected in the billing summaries. The corruption of log files is extremely rare, but in cases where this may occur, processes exist to recover them.
- Processes have been implemented to remove activity from Google internal IP addresses.
- Filtration rules and thresholds are monitored continuously. They can be changed manually, and are updated automatically on a regular basis.
Business partner qualification
All partners that display Google Ads on their content are required to adhere to our programme policies, which prohibit invalid activity. Learn more about invalid activity.
Google filters for invalid traffic on an ongoing basis, and will review any business partners that receive high amounts of invalid traffic. Partners who continually receive high amounts of invalid traffic may have their account suspended or closed.
Click data reporting
Google Ads reports the total number of clicks, the total number of impressions, and subsets of this data (for example, clicks, impressions and click-through rates, by campaign, ad group and keyword) to advertisers, and similar data corresponding to site statistics to publishers. The scope of the audit process covers the click and advertiser reporting for Google Ads. These figures may fluctuate to an extent during the course of the month and aren't considered finalised until they're frozen at month end. After this time, the reported clicks won't be adjusted, however, credits may be given to advertisers if Google deems it appropriate.
Google Ads includes the capability for advertisers to see the total number of daily clicks filtered (marked invalid) for each campaign. Google Ads doesn’t report general invalid traffic and sophisticated invalid traffic totals separately to prevent this data from being reverse engineered to optimise invalid traffic. Approximately 65% of total invalid click traffic is estimated to be general invalid traffic.
Comprehensive unit test procedures are utilised to ensure the accuracy of reported data in the Google Ads and AdSense frontends. These are the primary mechanisms utilised to ensure that data from backend databases are conveyed accurately in user-facing reports. In addition, user feedback is carefully monitored to discover and correct any errors which may make it through to a release. Numerous automated systems are in place to ensure the proper operation of all machines and software reporting data to Google Ads users. The content of the reporting, however, is primarily verified through the aforementioned unit tests and user feedback.
Electronic records relating to click activity are retained indefinitely. However, two data fields, IP and cookie IDs, are anonymised after a specified time period (9 months for IP addresses and 18 months for cookie IDs).
You can derive Gross Clicks metrics by reporting on Clicks and Invalid Clicks (GIVT & SIVT). This will allow you to calculate Gross Clicks.
Dashboard metrics presented outside of Search and Display Click campaign totals and device type segmentation aren't submitted for MRC accreditation.
Clicks from over the top devices (OTT), unknown and other device types, which are not MRC accredited, may be commingled with accredited desktop clicks and total clicks metrics on Google Ads reporting dashboards. Traffic from unaccredited device types is estimated to be less than 1% of search and display click traffic.
Video data reporting
For the purposes of MRC accreditation, only the Google Ads metrics listed in the download only video viewability report are in scope. Other reporting of video impression and viewability metrics across the front-end tools are excluded from accreditation, for example, the Campaign reporting front end.
- Skippable in-stream ads: Video ads that appear before, during or after YouTube video content, and provide viewers with the option to skip ads with lengths of 30 seconds or greater after the first 5 seconds have played.
- Bumper ads: Short video ads of approximately 6 seconds in length that appear before, during or after YouTube video content. Bumper ads are non-skippable ads.
- Non-skippable in-stream video ads: Video ads that range from 5 seconds to 30 seconds within video publisher content on the Google Display Network before, during or after video content, depending on where and when the content publisher chooses to show ads.