Viewability: what it is and why you should care?

Curated by Ankit Sehgal, Head of Performance.

Bulletin #4


Disclaimer: This is a little longer than a usual ‘Need to Know’ bulletin; not because we want to needlessly take up your time but because the concept of viewability really matters for you and your digital media budgets.

Disclaimer: This is a little longer than a usual ‘Need to Know’ bulletin; not because we want to needlessly take up your time but because the concept of viewability really matters for you and your digital media budgets.

There are a lot of portmanteaus that we advertising folk like to use; think usability, snackable, listicle, infotainment. However, viewability, one of the newer mash-ups, will stay in our industry lexicon while some of the more ridiculous terms will fade.

The viewability debate, put simply, is whether or not a digital ad was actually viewed. This became mainstream in 2014 when Google released research stating a startling 56% of digital impressions are not seen on some sites. It was the modern equivalent of the ‘half my advertising doesn’t work’ famous conundrum.

Google the term and you'll see there's a lot of talk but also a lot of scare-mongering and confusion about what it all actually means.

Viewability: a simple explanation
Viewability is an online advertising metric that aims to track only impressions that were actually seen by users. There are a number of reasons why your ad might not be viewed:

  • It might be below the ‘fold’ of a screen
  • It might be on an active tab that is not the open screen
  • The user may click away or mininimise the browser before the ad loads
  • A bot is viewing the ad
  • Or the user is using ad-blocking technology

Is this a serious issue?
Yes, because the ad impression is reported by the website and paid for by you the advertiser, but it might not have actually been seen by anybody.

What is the industry doing to mitigate this issue? The MRC/IAB has published a simple definition to indicate whether an ad is deemed viewable or not. A viewable ad must:

  • Have 50% of pixels within the visible area of the viewers browser
  • Be visible for at least one second for static ads and two seconds for video
In addition, software has been developed to monitor and assess viewability levels.

A point of view – from Ankit Sehgal, Head of Performance
The ultimate goal of the industry is to achieve 100% viewability. But realistically that is near impossible, especially given the 2014 industry average of 44%.

Viewability is something I have been advocating for the last couple of years and we have been tracking closely for our clients. Ikon uses MOAT, globally recognised as the leading viewability measurement platform.

As a council member of the NZ IAB I have written a white paper on the topic and recently taken part in an industry debate, as a panelist.

What I believe is important is not debating the specifics of the definition (i.e. is one second long enough?), it’s about the best measurement, so that we as an agency can guarantee your money is being spent in the best channels, using the best ad units. Viewability needs to be something clients understand and know to ask for with tracking.

From analysing viewability results over the last couple of years I know that we’ve optimised quality, mainly by having an open and transparent dialogue with the publisher partners about their inventory and ad units’ performance. To improve viewability, we’ve been moving spend away from certain ad inventory or publishers that are under performing.

Viewability tracking only gives us data or numbers; what is required is human understanding and manual processes to act on the numbers. It’s promising to see more tech platforms incorporating different viewability tech vendors; we expect more automation soon.

Should you care about viewability?
Yes. I believe it’s an important metric that will become a relevant industry standard, hence the emphasis we place on training our teams and our partners. At Ikon we're fully transparent about our viewability performance, and our goal is to always build from the baselines we achieve (it’s not only about chasing the elusive 100%). It’s new data, in a data crazy industry, but data that’s clearly adding value.

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