Viewability: How Much Should You Care?

December 02, 2016

Collective Measures
How should viewability impact media buying and performance? Several best practices have emerged to guide the role viewability should play in your next digital media buy.

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For several years, marketers have been discussing the subject of viewability and its implications on media buying and performance. While no perfect solution exists, several best practices have emerged to guide the role viewability should play in your next digital media buy.

What is Viewability and Why Does it Matter?

One of the major benefits of digital advertising is the ability to measured and analyzed. However, the reliability of that measurement was questioned when the industry uncovered the fact that impressions are often reported even when they are below the fold and cannot be seen by a human eye.

The Media Rating Council counts an ad as “viewable” when 50 percent of it shows on screen for one second or longer for display ads and two seconds or longer for video ads. 2016 studies report that roughly half (or less) of inventory qualifies as viewable – 48% of U.S. desktop display ads, 41% of U.S. video ads, and 41% of mobile ads. These stats should cause concern for any marketer paying for eyes to see their ads.

At a very basic level, this puts digital impressions back on par with traditional media impressions. For years, marketers relied solely on print circulation, outdoor board traffic counts and viewership ratings for broadcast to estimate their audience reach and gauge potential impact, not knowing how many people really read a specific copy of a magazine, drove past and saw an outdoor board, or viewed a TV ad. But digital can and should be able to provide greater insight into results and performance. In order to get the most accurate data, changes in both the buying process and analysis need to be implemented along the way.

How Can the Industry Combat Decreased Viewability?

A lot of time and research has gone into this topic over the past several years, and like all complicated topics, the solutions that have emerged contain pros and cons for all parties involved.

Buy Based on Viewable Impressions

An obvious solution might be for buyers to require vendors to deliver a certain percent of viewable or in-view impressions. Third party measurement companies like Double Verify can help monitor viewability and quality; while this guarantees that ads are able to be seen, it also implies that viewable inventory is quality inventory, which isn’t always the case. Because viewable targeting can’t decipher if an ad is better able to connect with an audience or is simply cluttering a site, it can incentivize publishers to push more units above the fold, which creates a more cluttered user experience and less chance for ads to be noticed, even if they are technically viewable. On the other hand, publishers may choose to improve user experience by decreasing the number of ads offered, which improves user experience but also increases cost due to higher demand and scarcity of inventory.

Shift Focus to Other KPIs

Another, possibly better option, is not to look at viewable impressions as a KPI, but instead focus on the element that requires the user to see and interact with the ad – things like ad engagement and view-through, depending on your campaign goal. While focusing on these KPIs doesn’t negate the problem of non-viewable impressions being served or reported, it shifts the focus to outcomes that are only possible when ads are actually seen, so that campaigns can be optimized or bought based on these business goal metrics.

Viewability as a tool and metric in digital ad buys is important. However, it’s more important to understand how it will affect campaigns. Increasing viewable impressions doesn’t necessarily mean that business goals will be better achieved, and certain goals, like driving efficient leads, should not depend on viewability. Focusing on those bigger goals, rather than in-view impressions, will better inform optimizations and drive desired results.

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