Improving Ad Viewability

Sovrn Publisher Advocate // November 10, 2016


While the concept of viewability is relatively simple, measurement is not so straightforward. At this juncture, not every impression can be measured or sold based on viewability because of various elements of complexity in the market.

However, leaders throughout the industry have been working together to make viewability a standard for all ad transactions, and we can see the market shifting towards viewable-only impressions in a few short years. Understanding the viewability of your site and how to improve viewability will be key to staying afloat in these shifting tides.

“An ad is viewable if at least 50% of ad pixels are in view for greater than one second.” – IAB Standard

Viewability is Nuanced

One of the common misconceptions we hear about viewability is that it’s all about ad layout. Layout is a very important factor that affects viewability, but the above-the-fold (ATF) vs. below-the-fold (BTF) argument is not as black and white as many publishers might think.

When you read an article on one of your favorite websites, the first few zones that are filled on that site are those ATF. However, what if that site has a really large header image (think that takes up the majority of the ATF real estate? That’s right, you are going to immediately scroll BTF to get to the content.

While you are engaged reading the content of the article, it’s those BTF ads that are getting the most time in the spotlight.

Pixel Area and Engagement

Engagement time is another important nuance of viewability measurement. There is a tendency to reduce viewability to just pixel area alone. If 100% of that ad’s pixels were in view, even if for just a second, we’re good! A recent report from Integral Ad Science, “Putting Science Behind the Standards”, says otherwise. The report found that the sweet spot for ad recall, what advertisers are really after, is 100% of ad pixels in view for at 7 seconds. That’s a much higher bar than what has been widely accepted as the viewability standard.

improving ad viewability


When it comes to pixel area, 50% often means that a user won’t ever see the brand’s logo, or have a chance to interact with the call to action.

If only 50% of ad pixels are in view, no matter for how long, can you really call that viewable?

Group M says no. Their viewability standard is tougher than IAB and MRC, requiring 100% of pixels in view for at least 1 second.

These are some big looming questions that we as an industry are getting wise to. As we hone in on the best standards for what truly makes an ad viewable, or what is most likely to help brands’ messages stick, there are many other factors beyond pixel area and time that come into play.

5 Factors of Viewability

1. Fraud

It doesn’t matter what portion of a banner’s pixels are in view if the “reader” on the page isn’t a human, but a bot.

2. Latency

When we are waiting for a particularly slow website to load, only the brave of heart will stick around for all the content to appear. The rest of us degenerates will bounce after a few seconds of agony. In the meantime, impressions are fired for the zones on that page even though the reader never read a thing.

3. Ad size, layout and attributes

How large the ad is, where it lives and attributes like “stickiness” or auto-refreshing all affect viewability rates.

4. Page layout

A key to improving viewability is designing a website experience that is friendly to users with purposefully placed ads that don’t detract from the page experience

5. Mobile and video

It’s more and more imperative to have a mobile-first experience on your website, including the ad experience. Many responsive websites create issues with and even break ads. With video, placement in video content and the presence of audio are big viewability factors.

Gotta get ’em all! 

You must account for all five of these factors to improve viewability across your site. Let’s dig into the exact ways you can do just that.

How to Improve Viewability on Your Site

Let’s dig into the two prongs of your viewability strategy:

1. Measure and benchmark

Uncover areas of strength and opportunity on your site.

2. Plan your approach

Use your findings to create a multi-faceted viewability plan.

Measure and Benchmark

Before you go off and redesign your website in a fit of viewability-induced frenzy, let’s take a step back. The best time investment you can make is to do a viewability audit and benchmarking project for your site. In doing so, you will uncover areas where you are strong and areas for opportunity. Often a full or even partial site redesign is totally unnecessary.

First find the right tools to measure current viewability rate

Google AdExchange (AdX) offers viewability metrics through Active View technology for any impressions that are passed through its exchange. If you are passing your non-guaranteed impressions through Dynamic Allocation, you will get the majority of your viewability data here.

Access Viewability Data in AdX

If you’re using Google AdExchange, here’s how to create a query and export the data.

1. Create a query

Create a new query using the query tool.

2. Select query dimensions

Date range: go for at least 3 months

Dimensions: Select “Tags” from “Inventory Segments” to break down viewability by the AdX tags you are using in your ad server and differentiate performance by unit.

Metrics: Include standard metrics along with “active view measureable” and “active view viewable.”

3. Export query data.

Now let’s use this data to build an ad unit viewability map for your site.

Other Viewability Tools

If you aren’t using AdX for ad serving or the reporting in AdX just isn’t a good option for your site, there are a few other tools you can leverage to pull similar metrics.

Here are the ones we recommend: MOAT, Integral AdScience, and comScore, and

improving ad viewability


Plan Your Approach

The viewability mapping exercise should surface areas of opportunity and help you to prioritize changes based on revenue impact.

Using the findings from your map, you should plan several parallel tracks to focus on site design, fraud prevention, latency and ad tech strategy.

Site Design

Review your benchmarks to focus on pages and sections of pages that are performing well and those that aren’t. Work with your UX and/or web development teams to determine appropriate controlled experiments to determine what changes positively and negatively impact viewability.

1. Testing ad to content correlation

Testing the number of ad units on a page and the ad to content ratio can help you hone in on the right number of zones to boost viewability % and revenue.

2. Control

Pick an existing page on your site – don’t change anything

3. Variant

Duplicate your Control page and remove one BTF zone

4. Key Metrics

Compare CPM, Viewable %, Viewable CPM, Fill Rate, Ad Render Time for A & B – pick a winner

Testing Ad Units

Testing the size and position of ad units on a page is the best way to determine which layouts are most viewable and most lucrative.

Run a series of tests to determine which ad types, placements and attributes are the most viewable based on your site layout. For example, you might run a test to find out which ad unit performs best on the homepage vs. on article pages. You should run ad strategy experiments for each different page template on your site to determine which units perform best on each.


1. Control

Existing homepage layout with one 728×90 ATF unit

2. Variant

Duplicate your homepage but replace the ATF 728×90 with a 300×250

3. Key Metrics

Compare Viewable %, Viewable CPM, Fill %, Ad Render Time, Page RPM for A & B versions – pick a winner

Mobile Friendly Layouts

InView Units

InView units are those which only load when they are in view of a reader. Signal InView ad units also track Viewable Engaged Time and the precise actions that a user takes when they are on any page. InView ads with Viewable Engaged Time (Signal) also create additional ad serving opportunities based on publisher-selected thresholds of Signal.

Fraud Prevention

Bot traffic and other fraudulent traffic hurts ad viewability.

It’s good practice for all publishers to leverage 3rd party tools to validate the quality of their site traffic. Here are a few tools we recommend checking out to track down and stamp out any fraudulent traffic to your domain.

improving ad viewability


All About Latency

Viewability metrics come in to effect only when the page has fully loaded, so latency can be a major reason why viewability rates are low globally or certain pages of your site. You can create a separate benchmarking map for latency metrics to capture latency by creative type, by browser, and by device. Because 3rd party creatives tend to have higher latency, it’s also important to do an analysis of latency by ad vendor to surface any trouble makers in your partner list.

The culprits:

1. Vendors

Create a vendor-specific latency plan based on revenue impact

2. Synch tags

Implement asynchronous tags, if you aren’t using them already

3. Passbacks

Keep passbacks to a bare minimum as they are a big contributor to latency

4. Video players

Native video players reduce latency while syndicated video or players called to the page can inflate it

Ad Tech Strategy

Once you have dialed in your plan of action for your site design, ad layout, latency reduction and fraud prevention, it’s time to consider broader changes to your advertising strategy that can further your viewability initiatives.

Only serve BTF ad units when they are known to be viewable and then signal to buyers that this unit is above the fold in the bid request. Another option for below the fold ads is to enable “stickiness” to increase time in view while the reader is engaged with adjacent content.

If you have the technical resources, consider server-to-server ad serving or site-serving instead of utilizing 3rd party servers. Server-to-server and site-serving vastly improves latency issues, boosting viewability across the entire site.

Pass creative size limits to buyers in your RTB calls to improve latency and viewability.

Use your findings from benchmarking and latency analysis to cut down on ad clutter by using only the most viewable, highest revenue generating units. Don’t be afraid to cut down on the total number of ad units in order to improve viewability.

InView Viewable Engaged Time (Signal) units provide another method to increase revenue without increasing ad clutter. Adjust ad refresh configurations based on Signal. Generate multiple impressions per pageview by combining Signal and sticky units.

Pass creative size limits to buyers in your RTB calls to improve latency and viewability.

The Time is Now

The industry is getting a grasp of the best ways to measure viewability and we are starting to collectively understand the impacts of viewability data on publishers’ and buyers’ bottom lines. We are seeing more and more buyers shift towards buying inventory based on viewability, and there’s no doubt that the rest of the industry will follow.

Make viewability reporting, benchmarking and optimization part of your publication’s DNA. Stay on top of important trends in the industry that can affect viewability like SSL, ad blocking, Google AMP, HTML5/Flash and beyond. And most importantly, get an action plan in place and start working to boost viewability on your site right now.

Add viewability to your strategy with Sovrn Signal ads today.

The easiest place to start? Test out a Sovrn Signal InView add in existing whitespace on your website. These nifty units only serve when they are at least 51% in view, and can create additional ad opportunities after every 30 seconds of Viewable Engaged Time.

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