Viewability: What To Do About The Elephant In The Room
There’s no point in paying for an ad that no-one will see, but it turns out that most publishers and online advertisers are doing exactly that.
Viewability is an online metric used in advertising that aims to track only impressions that can actually be seen by users. In the past few years, it’s come to light that an alarming proportion of ads are never seen by site visitors.
The most classical case of a viewability failure is when an ad appears on the bottom of a page and the user doesn’t scroll down far enough to see it. Another common viewability issue is when the ad appears among many other ads – most users won’t notice it.
This is a serious problem since the standard metric used to estimate campaign cost is impressions. If impressions don’t reflect how many visitors actually see the ad, it means the whole pricing system is flawed.
As of now, there’s no agreement on viewability standards, which makes it difficult to address the problems. Publishers, advertisers and ad networks have to take action together to come up with a meaningful metric and solutions.
How important is viewability?
Whether viewability is a serious issue or not largely depends on who you ask. Obviously, publishers and networks have a short-term interest to minimize the seriousness of the issue, while advertisers are very concerned about whether their ads are actually viewed.
According to some estimates, over 50% of online ads are not viewable.
Since the viewability issue reached the spotlight around 2013, the digital marketing industry has worked to standardize measurements of how buyers and sellers interact – more in relation to viewability rather than impressions.
However, different voices in the industry estimate viewability in different ways. Recent research by Sticky found that most ads considered “viewable” were actually seen for less than one second on average. Since the length of time an ad is viewed is the key predictor of how effective it is, this is clearly something publishers and advertisers alike have to take action on.
There’s no easy solution. It’s not just that viewability standards are not fully agreed on and established. Switching to viewable impressions will inflate media costs, so that the net cost might actually stay the same.
Coming up with a viewability standard is extremely complicated since you need a different standard rating for mobile and desktop. You already have over 20 different MRC-accredited viewability vendors, each with its own rating system, plus over 3,000 ad tech vendors who each have their own way of measuring viewable ad impressions.
So how do we resolve the viewability problem?
For publishers, solving viewability issues has to start with understanding their inventory, site structure and ad format.
Conducting a site audit with viewability in mind is critical. It is almost the only way to maximize value for this metric.
The more you optimize your campaign, the more you can see if your campaign leans toward mobile, desktop or specific ad formats. Once you have your campaign specifics, you can choose a vendor that has high-quality measurements for that format or platform.
When placing ads on your site, put them near areas of high engagement and far from other ads to avoid clutter.
Test different ad formats and layouts to see what works for your site.
You might also try sticky banners that stay visible as the viewer scrolls down. These have much higher viewability and effectiveness than standard banners.
Collaboration is the only path to progress
Both publishers and advertisers have the same interest in having a standardized and reliable viewability rating. Publishers want to effectively monetize their inventory, while advertisers naturally want their ads to be seen.
The bottom line is that both sides need to work together to create more engaging content as well as advanced engagement metrics to measure it.
Tests prove that great viewability scores don’t mean high KPI’s, so instead of being obsessed with statistics, the whole market should work together for a better and more engaging client experience.
Trust and transparency between networks, advertisers and publishers has to be established by sincere collaboration.
The ANA, 4A’s, IAB, TAG, MRC and the AAM need to work together to establish a reliable standard. Only a collective approach will work here.