Viewability is a metric that reflects how often an ad impression becomes visible to the user. This concept of "viewable" can be applied to video and display ads, before they are consumed by users.
For publishers/website owners, it's important to know that this metric will soon become a factor in their revenue stream. For advertisers, one of the most important questions is: what constitutes viewability?
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Council (MRC) have published new guidelines for determining when an ad has been viewed. Here's the gist: 50% of an ad's pixels must be in view on a user's browser for at least two seconds in order for it to count as "viewable."
This has led to the creation of new industry-wide viewability measurement standards. It's already being used by some major media owners, including AOL and Yahoo!
Viewability is currently only available for display ads, but it will soon be ready for video ads too. HTML5 introduced a "canvas" element that allows browsers (Chrome and Firefox) to capture an image without obstructing content on a page. The IAB Tech Lab has announced working groups to address this functionality with video ad providers such as Bright Roll, Eye blaster and SpotXchange.
Why is ad viewability important?
As more of the market shifts toward digital advertising, it's important for advertisers to know that their ads are being seen by users. Leaving money on the table is no good for anyone. Publishers need to be compensated fairly for displaying ads, if their ads aren't seen they're not making any money after all. Advertisers need to know that they're only paying for impressions that are actually viewable. And finally, ad blindness causes wasted clicks and frustrates users who can't see what they've clicked on or find what they're looking for. Viewability helps address this problem by indicating when an ad has actually been viewed (even if not clicked).
"Ads will now have to effectively compete with editorial content for user attention," said David Silverman, Director of Digital Media at GroupM. "In a world where consumers are more in control of what they see and when they see it, viewability will become one of the primary metrics for evaluating advertising effectiveness."
From an advertiser's perspective, higher rates of viewability lead to greater campaign performance. In other words, if your ads have a high percentage viewability rate, you're going to have better conversions. And that means more sales and happier customers!
"When we talk about ad viewability with our clients," notes Chris Copeland from Kenny Catembe International (KAI), "we want them to understand that these highly impressionable ads provide a new way to engage prospective customers on sites within their communities. We believe that this is not only more effective than traditional OOH billboards, but also offers greater potential for engagement."
Advertisers will likely try to game the system in order to pay less for their campaigns. But this could lead to false-positives on sites where ads are intentionally obscured within content (for example, with text or photos). A simple solution would be to require two seconds of viewability before counting it as "viewable". It's all about striking a balance between making it work for advertisers, while still producing an accurate measure of whether anyone has actually seen their ads.
From the publisher perspective, some might question how they can make money if more than half of an ad's pixels aren't in view on a user's browser. One option is to charge advertisers on a per-ad impression basis, or an RPM model, rather than CPC or CPM.
But publishers also have the ability to serve ads that are 100% in view. This way they can still generate revenue while reducing wasted impressions on user screens where users never see them.
Digital advertising is rapidly growing worldwide, becoming more important every year, especially for brand awareness and acquisition of new customers. But it's also incredibly complex. There are different types of display formats (banner ads), marketing strategies (CPS versus CPA), social media platforms (Facebook vs Twitter) and buying options (cost per thousand or cost per click).