A Practical Approach to Viewability

By: Ian Hewetson, VP Client Services, Eyereturn Marketing

Standardized viewability was originally conceived as the first step on the path to a cross-media measurement Utopia where brand advertiser dollars would flow more freely into digital. Unfortunately, we’re still stuck on that first step.

If standardization is ever going to happen, there are two central issues to resolve – the definition of viewability, and the technical measurement of viewability.

The definition is based on the percentage of an ad that must be in a browser window for the ad to be considered ‘viewable’ – and the number of seconds the “viewable” ad must remain in the browser window. Currently, there are a variety of advertisers and associations with different requirements. The IAB says that 50% of the ad must be in view for 1 second. Group M and the ANA say 100% for 1 second. And recently, Shell announced that they need to see 100% of the ad for a full 5 seconds.

On the measurement front, many different vendors and systems have emerged to measure viewability. Many use different methodologies, and despite the best efforts of industry auditors like the MRC, large discrepancies between different vendors are common, which has led to disagreements between buyers and sellers.

The end result is that it’s a challenge to buy or sell online inventory based on viewability – unless the buyer and seller agree to a shared definition of viewability, and a shared measurement vendor, or an acceptable discrepancy if the buyer and seller are using different vendors.

So in practical terms, how does an advertiser go about maximizing viewability?

Based on the results of a 300 million impression study in October 2014, eyereturn came to several conclusions that point the way towards maximized viewability, many of them based on common sense.

Buy on transparent, high quality inventory, sold in friendly iframes. Not only is this inventory easier to measure for viewability, it’s easier to vet for fraud, and because the media is being sold by sellers who are not trying to obscure their domains, it is generally of higher quality.

Make sure you’re dealing with fraud first. The study clearly showed that suspicious domains had abnormally high viewability rates – this is because fraud sites often optimize towards high viewability in order to attract more advertising. If a robot “sees” an ad, it is viewable.

Make sure you’re looking at measurability rates. For example, if a media supplier delivers a million impressions and reports 80% viewability, a buyer might assume that this means 800,000 viewable impressions. But if the seller is only measuring 5% of impressions, that translates into only 40,000 impressions that can be considered verifiably viewable; with the remaining 960,000 impressions being an unknown quantity.

Make sure you’re working with suppliers that you trust, and who have an integrated approach that addresses the multiple issues that influence viewability.

So – outside of these practical approaches, as an industry, what does the future hold for viewability?

There’s no doubt that an increase in viewability is good for both buyers and sellers, so expect to see the industry working together to come to workable resolution. Having said that, it’s difficult to see all advertisers agreeing on a definition. On the sell side, expect to see publishers optimizing for viewability, including wider adoption of “lazy loading” where ads and content load only as they become viewable; theoretically leading to 100% viewability. So while debate continues over whether the Utopia of standardized viewability even exists, it’s up to both sides to take a practical approach to hit the shared goal of maximized viewability, even if all of the details haven’t been ironed out yet.