Many publishers using Google’s Ad Exchange will have noticed some unexpected results on July 8th 2020 and recorded disappointing revenue for the day. Whilst fluctuations are never unexpected (especially given the state of the advertising market in 2020), significant changes are always worth investigating. In some cases, those investigations give tantalising insights, like in this case where they suggest that Google could be working to add “refresh in-view” functionality to AdX.
What happened on July 8th?
On Wednesday 8th of July, OKO monitoring picked up performance changes across a large number of publishers. Impression numbers increased significantly, but revenue wasn’t following. In many cases, revenue was actually dropping despite the increased impressions.
As OKO reporting combines analytics data with the usual ad-server and vendor data it is easy to separate traffic impact from performance changes. In this case, our ad reach report, which shows how many impressions are served on average per pageview, clearly highlights the issue.
This chart shows a spike in impressions per page for one of our publishers on July the 8th, but earnings per session going in the opposite direction.
Google Ad Manager reporting also suggested an issue. Ad Exchange impressions were up, but CTR and eCPM were both down.
Tim Elliott, who heads up performance at OKO investigated the issue across a number of publisher sites.
“When you see a significant volume of low-value impressions appearing you need to understand where they are coming from. Traffic levels seemed consistent with what we would expect across the network so we needed to investigate individual sites to find the cause. What we observed were ad slots fetching new ads beyond the first request at regular time intervals – essentially “refreshing” ad slots with new demand. Google Publisher Console confirmed this as we noted “Ad Fetch Counts” incremented as we observed the “refreshing” behaviour.”
“Worth noting also was that this behaviour was not observed on slots where the winning impression came from direct or non-Google remnant campaigns, meaning that non-Google sources of demand appeared unaffected.”
GAM reports corroborated this showing the increase in impressions with Active View scores holding their own. At OKO we employ a similar solution; timing how long each ad unit spends in-view and only instigating a new ad call when the first creative has been seen for 30 seconds and a new one is very likely to be viewed. Both the observed behaviour and the resulting data suggested a very similar approach being applied within the Google Publisher Tag without additional logic.
This “polite” behaviour towards other demand, combined with the fact that the ads only seemed to refresh when in led to us speculating that this could be a test by Google rather than purely accidental behaviour. Google innovation is centred around testing and measurement, so this wouldn’t be an unlikely cause.
What do Google say?
We wouldn’t expect Google to comment on a development feature unless it had reached the stage of being available for GCPP to join and alpha or beta test. They have however confirmed to us that there was an “an ongoing system error on the 8th of July which resulted in all the ad slots being refreshed” and this was swiftly resolved. Performance has indeed returned to expected levels, but it interesting to consider that some form of refresh in view feature might make it to Adx/Ad Manager in the future. Of course, even if there were a deliberate test, the feature may potentially never make it to general release.