Intro to Viewability

sovrnmarketing // June 17, 2015

intro to viewability for publishers

Viewability, simply put, is how likely an ad is to be seen on a page. An ad typically has been considered served if it loads on a page but as the technology continues to advance and provide more data, advertisers are expecting more from their online advertising efforts. The new rising standard of whether an ad is served and therefore paid for is how “viewable” it is. For an impression to be considered viewed, a percentage of pixels have to be in sight of the user for a certain amount of time.
Up to half of all display ads are never actually seen by humans and advertisers aren’t accepting that fact anymore. They don’t want to pay for impressions that aren’t going to be seen so there is now a demand for 100% viewability. Not only is this unrealistic it’s actually impossible to guarantee with current technology.
Whether you are a publisher, advertiser or an ad exchange like us, the discussion over viewability is an important one. Being familiar with viewability and staying on top of the standards being established will set you up to succeed in this changing market.

What is Viewability?

How do you measure it?
A lot of the debate around viewability is about how to measure it. The Media Rating Council decided that a desktop display ad is viewed when 50% of its pixels are in view for 1 continuous second. For video it is the same 50% of pixels in view but for 2 seconds instead of 1. Generally advertisers want a higher pixel and time requirement so that they can be more certain that their advertisements are being seen.
What causes missed impressions
Having 100% viewability isn’t possible because the only way to truly guarantee something has been seen is to be in the same room as the user. There are simply too many ways for an ad to be served without actually being seen. The ad could be placed below the fold on a page and the user can simply not scroll far enough to see it or if an ad loads too slowly the visitor could leave before it finishes.

Along with user behavior causing missed impressions, bots are tricking ad servers into thinking they are real people. Some publishers have taken advantage of this by creating pages that are flooded with ads but are only accessible to bots. This leads to advertisers paying for valueless impressions, which is why advertisers want viewability to be the standard.

What’s the Conflict?

Fraud is one of the main reasons advertisers want to implement a reliable viewability standard. The strict requirements advertisers want for what constitutes a successfully served ad may solve the issue of bots and general fraud but it is not a fair demand to make of publishers. With the current system there is already a problem with ads not meeting the requirements for viewability due to human behavior and stricter guidelines will only increase these instances.
Along with the solution to fraud, advertisers want a foolproof verification system to make sure a human has seen the ad. This is a bit ridiculous because even if all fraudulent traffic were stopped there would still be viewless impressions thanks to humans being humans. Minds and eyes wander constantly, making it easy for an ad to be entirely in view yet not be processed by a visitor.
Advertisers want publishers to allow third-party verification of viewability
Since viewability is a relatively new metric, there aren’t established standards for how to measure it. Without standardization, the data being produced lacks credibility. Due to concern over tampered data, advertisers want publishers to allow third parties to verify sites viewability stats. It’s a reasonable expectation but again a lack of standardization takes away legitimacy from the metric so the problem persists.
All these problems and disagreements come with the territory of implementing a new metric. Both sides want to benefit as much as possible and in these early talks there is bound to be some friction. With more people getting involved in the conversation, by the time viewability is the industry standard it will ultimately benefit everyone.

The Future of Viewability

Video & Mobile
Video and mobile were somewhat of an afterthought when viewability surfaced. The MRC set a requirement for video (50% of pixels shown for 2 consecutive seconds) but video and display have a difference greater than 1 second. A survey conducted by STRATA showed that only 25% of consumers could identify a brand or product in the first 2 seconds of a video, meaning a video could be considered viewed when the visitor has no idea was the ad was for.
Viewability is on it’s way to becoming the go-to metric for valuing ad inventory. As publishers and advertisers become more familiar with it, the more effective the market will be at utilizing it. Once there are set standards, publishers and advertisers will better understand what is realistic to expect and will be able to work together to prosper.

What Can Publishers do?

As a publisher, viewability may seem a little out of your control. There may not be a way to guarantee that an ad will be seen but a publisher is more than capable of making an ad more viewable. Ad inventory towards the top of the page has a higher chance of being in view when a user loads the site and placing ads around interesting content can prevent people from just scrolling past. Making sure your ad partners are delivering creative that are quick to load is crucial since an extra second of load time can greatly reduce it’s viewability.

The most important thing that publishers and advertisers can do is stay current and stay active in the viewability discussion. It may seem like a volatile topic now but paying attention to trends and anticipating the future will pay off once it stabilizes.

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