Sovrn’s Viewability Assurance and What It Means for Publishers

sovrnmarketing // October 12, 2015

“Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”

That statement, attributed to department store mogul John Wanamaker, was uttered more than 100 years ago. With its laser-accurate measurement and targeting, online advertising was meant to have solve this conundrum and for a while advertisers thought it had.

Lately, advertisers have started to doubt that assumption. The rise of ad fraud is one reason; the other is viewability. In short, viewability is the potential for an ad to be seen by a human and advertisers have begun to doubt that many of their ads can be seen at all (for more about this and viewability in general, see our recent intro to viewability post by Will). Recent studies back this concern. For example, Integral Ad Science, a leading media quality measurement vendor, thinks that only 44% of display ads were viewable, and studies by Google give similar figures.

This concerns has caused some advertisers to make viewability one of their buying considerations. While 100% viewability isn’t currently possible due to limitations in measurement technology and standards, many advertisers are using some sort of viewability criteria in their advertising campaigns. This puts independent publishers and content creators, who often can’t afford or access viewability measurement tools, at a disadvantage.

This is why Sovrn created the Viewability Assurance program.  It benefits publishers in two ways:

  1. We use our scale on behalf of independent publishers, so that they can still sell to advertisers who are only buying viewable impressions. Without this, smaller publishers would be cut off from this source of buyers
  2. We align advertisers interests and publisher concerns. Publishers who create more viewable ads will see higher CPMs, as selective advertisers compete for those ads, while other publishers can still sell ad inventory to other advertisers

This second point is worth unpacking. By creating our Viewability Assurance program, we’re proactively creating more competition between advertisers for the most viewable impressions. This competition will create higher CPMs and fill, which we’re passing onto you as part of our role as a partner to independent publishers. Without this program, advertisers could buy your most viewable impressions without paying a commensurate price.

So, how can I become part of the Sovrn Viewability Assurance program, I hear you ask. (Okay maybe I don’t literally hear you, but I rhetorically hear you.)  If you’ve got great content, a smart site design and little ad clutter, chances are you’re already in the program. For those who want to take a more proactive approach your improving the viewability of your ads, here are some tips:

  • Top-of-page ads aren’t always the best.  Counter intuitively, placing all your ads across the top of your page isn’t the best strategy. For example, leaderboard ads aren’t the most viewable ads because many people quickly scroll down a page a little when they first visit a page.  If you have a leaderboard ad, consider placing it 100 pxs or so below the top of your page
  • Vertical Ads do well. Because of the above, and because most viewability criteria require some of the ad to be viewable for a certain amount of time, tall ads, such as 160 by 600, have some of the highest viewability rates
  • Place Ads in line to great content. Putting ads to the left or right of compelling content that people are going to stop and read or see results in good viewability. Easy enough to say, but generating great content is hard to do
  • Create fixed position ads. Another way to do this is to create an ad that stays in the same relative position on the screen as a visitor scrolls through your page. For an example of this, visit
  • Embed ads into the flow of content. You could place ads within the body of your content. An example of this is how Facebook puts ads into its news stream.
  • Think hard about slideshows. A while back, these were all the rage, but you need to think hard about deploying this tactic. People tend to click quickly through each page/slide, so if your content isn’t engaging enough to make people pause at each page, the quick clicking is going to reduce the overall viewability of ads on your site. For an example of this, look at the Best Nail Looks of 2015 Harper’s Bazaar. Lots of images with little copy, so you can imagine visitors spending less than a few seconds on each page.  Since viewability metrics consider the time an ad is on page, having visitors quickly click or scroll through your site will reduce your viewability.

As time goes on, we’ll write more about viewability, but hopefully this post has whet your appetite. If you have any other questions, we’d love to hear from you.

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