Article: Viewability and Verification, taking digital transparency to the next level

A few years ago, marketers paid for 1.8 trillion display ads that were never seen! And this has continued! Marketers still pay for the ads that are served but not really viewed.

Such a waste of ad dollars would not happen in conventional marketing, so why is it so common online? No brand will post a billboard on an empty road. Yet, in an analogous situation in the world of display advertising, billions of dollars are going down the drain.

This is what brings viewability to the forefront, the discussion point of marketers all around the world.

What is Viewability?

Viewability is an online advertising metric that keeps track of ad impressions actually viewed by the users, shifting advertisers’ focus from a ‘served’ impression to a ‘viewable’ impression, setting the baseline for any marketing objective.

A served ad impression is viewable when 50% of the ad unit is in view on the users browser. The criteria of viewable impression factors in the percent of ad pixels within the viewable space and the length of time the ad appears in the viewable space of the browser tab.

Emergence of Concept

Concept of ad viewability evolved when advertisers started to complain and expected proof from the publishers and media vendors that their ad was actually being viewed by the targeted audiences. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative defines only those display ad impressions viewable where 50 percent or more of the pixels load onto a page and the impression is present on the screen for at least a second.

The IAB recommends that 70 percent of a campaign’s measured impressions should meet the minimum standard viewability rate. For video ads, the threshold of viewability is two seconds.

Marketers have noted that ads meeting the threshold perform better across all measured impressions. These ads have higher click-through rates and higher interaction rates.

Principles of Digital Marketing Measurement

Digital marketers have agreed upon the following principles of measurement:

  • Count real exposures online, migrating to a currency based on audience impressions, not gross ad impressions.
  • Create a transparent classification system as all ad units are not created equal
  • Determine interactivity metrics for marketers enabling them to better evaluate contribution of online platform to brand building
  • Make digital media measurement integrated with other media

Viewability and the Advertising Ecosystem

The advertising ecosystem consists of marketers, publishers, and media vendors, each having a unique role to play in ensuring accountability in advertising.

Factoring in viewability, marketers want their ads to be seen, eliminating budget going down the drain and increasing efficacy of their campaign.

Publishers are expected to offer viewable inventory on their sites. They need to meet industry standards regarding viewability and thus earn credibility in the market.

Media vendors collaborate with both marketers and advertisers to provide solutions to augment viewability. They work with publishers to verify viewability in their inventory and assist marketers on setting realistic viewability goals.

How Viewability Helps Increase Dollar Efficiency

Viewability helps funnel marketing dollars in a better way:

Pre Bid Probability that ads served to specific sites will be viewed.
Real Time Real-time viewability only display ads considered eligible for conversion credit.
Post Bid Number of impressions served to viewable sites, how many were in view, and for how long.

ATF vs BTF

ATF (above-the-fold) impressions are often used as a proxy for viewability, which is not absolutely correct. Not all the ATF impressions are actually viewable. Though it may seem surprising, it does happen because some users immediately start scrolling, leaving top placed ads on screen for less than a second. Moreover, a significant chunk of ATF inventory is self-categorised, leading to inconsistency on what constitutes ATF vs BTF (below-the-fold).

Road Ahead for Marketers

Marketers need to gear up for the new era of viewability in digital advertising.

Optimise toward Viewability Goals

Brands have to work with MRC-accredited media vendors to optimise campaign toward mutually agreed-upon viewability goals. They need to be careful about selecting a vendor who is able to measure viewability with greater accuracy.

Determine a Business Specific Approach

Marketers need to thoroughly analyse their campaign objectives, industry developments, and other variables before arriving on a plan to make the utmost of their endeavour. They must hold all media vendors to the same viewability standards regarding goals, guarantees and vCPM, and negotiate with them to arrive on a mutually agreed-upon viewability percentage. Both parties need to establish guidelines for measurement and a method for resolving discrepancies.

Set Realistic Campaign Goals

Surpassing 70 percent mark regarding viewability with RTB (real-time bidding) is difficult, thanks to the limited amount of inventory at or above that level. Ad viewability cannot be predictable with complete accuracy as user behaviour is also a factor. Users can quickly scroll the page or simply click away, creating a tab on the viewability goals.

Set Standards for Measuring Viewability

Marketers must make it a matter of policy to work only with MRC-accredited viewability measurement vendors. This would help move the industry toward a threshold where all vendors meet the same standard in reporting.

Blending Viewability with Programmatic Media

Marketers are often unsure about meeting viewability thresholds with programmatic media on plan. While they recognise the role of programmatic into their media plans, they are wary of seemingly inversely correlation between the amount of programmatic media and viewability goals.

However, technology is on hand to help. Platforms like MOAT mean you can not only trade on 100% viewable impressions but also 100% human impressions. Using MOAT not only gives advertisers access to a live dashboard of their campaigns but also makes the entire programmatic buying process more transparent.

Other ways to improve programmatic viewability:

Optimise Buys toward Viewability

Increased diligence on the part of programmatic buyers enables them to cut site placements with low viewability and track non-human traffic and eliminate sites that are showing high levels of fraudulent activity.

Move to Private Deals

PMPs do provide a better deal regarding viewability than the average open exchanges, yet it is often short of the 70% viewability target.

Working with Viewability in Different Environments

Viewability is a complex concept requiring standardisation of metrics and functionality in different requirements:

E-commerce Sites

Security mechanisms on e-commerce websites to enable customers to make safe transactions may create problems for marketers attempting to measure the impressions. These mechanisms block the vendor software from accessing the inventory. Marketers need to look at retail sites through a different lens. Publishers too need to work with a vendor who has adequate technical capabilities to perform efficiently in the unique environment.

App & Mobile Devices

Environment mobile devices work in is different from desktop environment. This creates a unique set of challenges for the marketers to address. As for the apps, marketers face even more challenges, as every app is unique. As brands realise the role of mobile viewability in success, publishers who find solutions for getting accurate measurements stand to benefit. A key requirement when developing mobile advertising solutions is to use app ad serving logic with built-in triggers to start impression counting only when the ad comes into view.

Video

In 2015, digital video pulled ahead of social media. According to a report from eMarketer, the ‘Q2 2015 State of Video’ users are spending an average of 1:55 with digital video each day, against 1:44 on social networks. This explains why it is important for advertisers and publishers to take steps for measuring viewability for video ads. New advances in measurements enable advertisers find if their video ads are being viewed. However, viewability can be impacted by device, player size, and ad position.

Working with Viewability in Different Environments

Non-human Traffic

A big chunk of all online traffic is non-human (bots, spiders and other technologies), which means advertisers paying much higher CPMs and reaching far fewer people than they had expected. An estimate pegs the potential financial damage caused by bots in 2015 at $6.3 billion. For both advertisers and publishers, the solution is to increase profit by understanding how to manage actual human traffic.

There is a long way to go for publishers, advertisers, and brands alike. While the advertisers need to get the sites measured for viewability, publishers too must audit their sites for viewability.

Factors Influencing Ads’ Viewability

Several factors influence the likelihood of an ad to be viewed. A recent study disclosed some interesting findings:

  • Interactive rich media ad formats are likely to get more views than static formats
  • HTML5 ads outperform both Flash rich media and Flash standard banners
  • Mobile ad units have higher viewablity rates than desktop ads
  • Viewable rates go up as advertisers adopt more interactive formats

However, this is just a starting point as to gauge full impact of viewability on performance, one needs to analyse it in combination with other metrics such as engagement, media cost, dwell, attributed conversions, gross ratings points, and many more.

Variability in Measurability

Accuracy of viewability measurements has steadily improved in recent years, yet the results still vary a lot among leading ad vendors. Measurability rates of vendors regarding viewability, or the proportion of impressions they evaluate as viewable or out of view,
may vary by up to 30 percent for the same set of impressions. While 100 percent measurability hasn’t been currently achieved by any
viewability measurements vendor, reputable vendors can reach as close to it as possible.

Media Rating Council (MRC) recommends hiring accredited vendors like MOAT to measure viewability, ensuring that analysis is done keeping to the industry standards.

Verification

Ad viewability has been a major concern for marketers as they realised that many of the ads they were buying online never really had a chance to be seen. In December 2014 Google created turmoil when they stated that 56% of the web’s banner ads are never seen.

Demand of media buyers and brand marketers to have transparent ad campaign environment led to leading publishers accepting independent viewability verification on their properties.

Facebook, for instance, announced that it would allow advertisers to buy 100% in-view impressions for ads served in the news feed, including text, photo, link and video ads.

Other bigwigs like Yahoo, Fox, ABC, NBC, and Hulu have already agreed to use third-party tags to verify online viewability. While several publishers practised self-reporting on viewability, advertisers disapproved of it stating that they could not measure themselves.

Having third party vendors on board for verification will allow advertisers and agencies to independently verify the flavour of viewability metric and take information-backed decisions from an investment standpoint.

While marketers contend that 100% viewability is not feasible, they believe that third-party verification will at least enable them to compare viewability metrics on apples-to-apples basis across multiple publishers. Third-party verification has emerged as a key component for credible measurement of ad viewability and publishers that stay way are likely to be adversely impacted by significantly reduced ad spend.

Conclusion

Budget is arguably the most valuable asset for marketers. They want every marketing dollar to reach prospects and prompt them to start the buying process.

The whole concept of viewability is focused on improving the efficacy of ad campaigns, making it totally advantageous for all stakeholders – advertisers, publishers, and market vendors.

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Image source: http://www.adweek.com/

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