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Ad Viewability: A Marketing Primer

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This lesser-known metric is usually overshadowed by things like campaign spend and CPA. Let’s unpack its significance.

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In what sometimes feels like a vast ocean of data, two questions about digital ad performance tend to be asked the most: how much did they cost, and how many leads did they generate?

Rarely asked, however, is “What was the viewability rate?” It’s not top-of-mind for most in the marketing world, and not even for digital marketing specialists.

So let’s unpack this topic to better understand how important it really is.

What is ad viewability?
Viewability refers to how visible an ad is to humans when it appears on a website or app. By the IAB’s definition (more on that below), an ad is either viewable or it isn’t. The viewability rate divides the number of times the ad was viewed by the number of times it was served. It’s how we’ve standardized what counts as an impression.

How is viewability measured?
The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has specific requirements for an ad impression to be counted as viewable. At least 50% of the ad must be shown on the webpage or app’s screen for at least one second—two seconds for video content. You can learn more about these requirements, in the Media Rating Council’s Viewable Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines.

How do I see my ad viewability rates?
Most ad platforms show this data as part of their built-in reporting. However, in light of growing concerns about ad fraud and the reliability of platform-side metrics, some third-party options have become available in the past few years.

The IAB, for instance, now offers a resource called Open Video Viewability. Similarly, offers a free tool advertisers can use to diagnose their performance. Google provides one, too: Active View, which is a free tool built into all its ad platforms, and is singularly-focused on measuring viewability in real time.

Why aren’t more of my ads viewable?
Sometimes this is due to user behavior—maybe the user didn’t scroll down far enough to see the ad, or an ad blocker was installed.

Other times, though, an ad may not be viewable because of how it was developed and placed. Factors like page speed, responsiveness, ad size, and position can all affect viewability.

This is why not everyone who visits a page with your ad on it, will actually see your ad.

Why is viewability important to marketers?
On a practical level, no one on your team has the time (or ability) to personally view every ad you’ll place in all of the environments it could be served. When you consider how differently content appears depending on browser, device, screen size, and user-configured settings, the value of this being measured automatically is clear.

Furthermore, no one wants to spend money on ads that aren’t—or worse, can’t be—viewed. Awareness of viewability rates, and updating creative practices in light of them, can help reduce waste in our ad spend.

What’s a good viewability rate?
Estimates differ, but the recent average for desktop display ads was 62%, with publisher direct inventory regularly performing better than programmatic. For video ads, the average was 66%, with YouTube ads leading the pack at 95%.

But take these benchmarks with a grain of salt. Even “good” rates won’t reveal the most important things about your ad performance.

Should viewability rate be our north star metric?
No. Highly viewable ads are only valuable if they’re also effective with users. That means being memorable, different, and relevant to the right audience—the same criteria advertisers have heard about for over a hundred years. You’ll know if your ads are performing in these ways by looking at metrics like clicks, conversions, time-on-page, and other proofs of engagement.

Ad Viewability vs. Ad Effectiveness

Knowing your ad has been seen is important, but it’s not the same as knowing it was effective. Viewability is just one of the first hurdles your creative needs to clear. Standing out in the minds of users is a bigger challenge.

By at least one estimate, you were exposed to about 5,000 ads yesterday. If you can remember any of them—even one—well enough to recall the brand and its message, that was a success for the advertiser.

They Don’t Always Go Hand-in-Hand

Viewability and effectiveness are a winning combination, but success in one area doesn’t guarantee it in the other. Consider a couple of findings in a recent article at Marketing Land:

  • Desktop banners—an old favorite—rated well for viewability, but showed the second-lowest ad effectiveness of all platforms. “While these ads had an 80% viewability rate, they were only looked at an average of 1.9% of the total session time and represented 2% ad effectiveness.”
  • Instagram ads, by contrast, perform well in viewability and effectiveness. “Despite the low share of sessions reported at 1.9%, Instagram proved to be 8.3x more effective than gaming and 5.4x more than desktop with 77% of participants looking at an ad at some point during their session.”

Aim for Being Seen and Remembered

Facts like these remind us that seeing an ad isn’t the same as being moved by an ad. The pressure has never been higher to execute advertising that makes an impact. If there was a Venn diagram of modern marketing disciplines, we’d see digital advertising in the sliver where art and science overlap.

DKY has built a team of experts with a variety of backgrounds and specialties—we live in that overlapping of art and science. If you’re not sure your digital advertising is being seen and making an impact, let’s talk.