Greater Than One


Thought Leadership

Filter - August 2015

Looking at Viewability: Half Full or Half Empty?

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
—John Wanamaker (1838-1922), American department store merchant

John Wanamaker’s ironic statement about advertising rings as true today for all media as it did a century ago for print. According to a recent report from Google, more than half of all in-browser display impressions they measured are not seen.

Thanks to digital media, today we have myriad data and measurement tools that Mr. Wanamaker could only dream about. But how do we make sense of the information they provide us, given the measurement challenges of our ever-changing media landscape?

Let’s look at one digital metric that has been receiving a lot of recent attention: viewability.

Simply put, viewability defines whether an ad was viewed or not. But it’s not so simple to measure; until recently, there was not even an agreed-upon definition of a “view.” A step in the right direction came in March 2014 when the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) published the first industry standards:

  • Display impressions: “A minimum of 50% of pixels in view for a minimum of one second”
  • Video impressions: “A minimum of 50% of pixels in view for a minimum of two seconds”

Using these standards, Google measured impressions with their Active View technology and found that 56.1% are non-viewable or non-measurable. In other words, they are “not seen”—a finding most likely supported by the high volume of “long tail, low quality” inventory found across the Web.

Google also found that viewability varies significantly across content verticals. For health-related content, the viewability average is 44%.

But as enticing as it looks as a leading measure of performance, viewability alone is not the endgame for digital advertising. There are some caveats to consider:

  • Currently, there is no mobile-specific viewability standard in place, and the technology behind mobile advertising inhibits effectively measuring viewable impressions
  • Not all platforms offer complete viewability tracking; video is often excluded
  • Measurement technologies, such as page geometry and browser optimization, are still nascent and may not record all impressions, or may yield different results
  • Even when the technologies operate as intended, they are not infallible and may count viewable impressions as non-viewable and vice versa
  • Just because a banner is “viewable” does not necessarily mean it was seen—similar to TV, out-of-home, or print ads that may not be seen by some consumers

As we see it at GTO, viewability is important, but it should be considered one among many KPIs for a campaign. Especially as mobile becomes a bigger part of the media mix, focusing too sharply on a metric that excludes mobile may not make sense. At GTO, we prioritize premium inventory as a best practice and use tools such as MOAT Analytics and Integral Ad Science to audit inventory delivery and engagement across numerous metrics, including viewability. And we recommend conducting an ROI analysis to determine the optimal approach (eg, 50% viewable @ $10 cost per thousand impression (CPM) = 100% viewable @ $20 CPM). Depending on campaign goals, efficiency may be just as important when evaluating results.

— Kate Drummond and Randy Zellerbach, Media

Think with Google. The importance of being seen: viewability insights for digital marketers and publishers. Published November 2014. Accessed July 23, 2015.