Measuring Viewability: What Do Advertisers Need To Know?

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tony-evans"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Tony Evans, corporate development director at Crimtan.

I promised myself I would never use the quote, “Fifty percent of my advertising is wasted — but which half?” But here I go again.

This time it’s not because we serve random ads to any old web user — targeting technologies have taken care of this. It’s because the industry has awakened to the fact that half of all online ads are never seen, so 50% of ads are still wasted. We’ve heard a lot more noise about viewability lately, and with so many technologies involved and people contributing to the dialogue, now is a good time for an update on the current state of play.

The interest in viewability started when brand advertisers began to look seriously at digital advertising but wanted metrics based on the fundamental measure for a branding campaign – that users actually saw their ads. Some companies began developing viewability tools and soon various bodies, including the IAB, AOP, ISBA and IPA, began to establish trading standards around viewability.

These would allow digital media to be compared directly to traditional media where measurement is based on the “opportunity to see.” Until now, digital advertising has only been measured if an ad has been served, not if it was on the screen long enough for users to see it. And, despite the fact that many marketers can’t get past clicks as a currency, click through rate (CTR) is simply not relevant for top-of-the-funnel branding campaigns. When you are looking to spread awareness among a specific user group it’s obvious that viewability is a much more valuable and more easily understood metric for brand marketers. So, for now, the industry has decided that “50% of an ad viewable for one second” is the basic viewability standard.

It’s hoped that introducing viewability and measuring campaigns by “targeted audience impressions viewed” rather than just “ad impressions” means more money will come to digital. That’s because agencies have the ability to allocate budgets more accurately between digital and other media while increasing performance and accountability.

While firmly focused on brand building campaigns, there are two additional benefits viewability brings. Firstly, direct response (DR) campaigns can be optimized according to this metric, so this becomes yet another tool for improving performance for some campaigns. And secondly, measuring conversion attribution against viewable inventory can make cost per action (CPA) calculations more accurate.

Key Approaches

So who are the main viewability players and how do they stack up? A good place to start is the Media Rating Council (MRC), which recently published its latest table of accredited services. It reveals that there are now 10 providers of viewability technology using two main technology approaches; four current providers use both technologies:

1. Page geometry: Uses a geometric triangulation technique to determine the position of the ad in relation to the browser window. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on cross-domain iframes in Chrome or Safari browsers.

2. Browser Optimization: Monitors a browser's internal processes to determine if an ad is being rendered.

These different approaches are partly responsible for the huge discrepancies advertisers often see when different viewability providers are ran on the same campaign. But the MRC suggests that other processes, including filtration and verification functions, are more important in accounting for differences in calculations of viewable impressions.

While consistent reporting across multiple campaigns is essential, other important factors to consider when evaluating vendors are the methodology used and whether they offer other insights beyond viewability, such as fraud detection, content quality and pre-bid viewability in real-time bidding (RTB) ad exchanges. It is also important for advertisers to ensure that viewability rates are for ads that were actually “in view” and don’t include impressions that were not measureable. Otherwise viewability rates could be a lot higher than the true figure.

MRC To Act Soon

The MRC currently advises caution when using viewability data and believes it is premature to transact on viewability. They are, however, working on a reconciliation project to iron out the inconsistencies and allow the industry to move towards a viewable impression currency. This could happen as soon as the end of the first quarter of 2014, so although it will be a little while longer before it becomes an accepted currency, now is the time to get up to speed on what it all means for business.

For advertisers, it is only a matter of time before viewability becomes an essential element of most campaigns, especially branding campaigns. In the next few months it will be crucial for advertisers to learn about the benefits and limitations of viewability, evaluate viewability vendors and think about how it will affect their business.

As soon as the industry gets the green light from the MRC, demand from marketers is likely to be huge so publishers should examine and adapt their website ad placements to maximize viewability since websites with viewable impressions are likely to have an advantage.

Follow Crimtan (@Crimtan) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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