Viewability: The Real Impact on Publishers and 4 Ways to Improve It

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The viewability landscape is very new, controversial, and rapidly changing.
The viewability landscape is very new, controversial, and rapidly changing.

Viewable impressions (vCPM) will impact publisher revenue—and publishers should start paying attention. Agencies will use viewability metrics to one, select publishers for a buy; and two, determine the impressions for which the publisher is paid.

Imagine a site where 50% of its overall inventory is deemed viewable. Since the publisher is only being paid on 50% of the total impressions served, the pub needs to charge twice the CPM to guarantee the same revenue for which it would've originally been entitled. If the agencies end up spending the same amount as when they were simply buying on a standard CPM basis, then what was the point of buying viewable impressions?

The value of a publisher's viewable impressions may increase, but if it doesn't offset the loss of the non-viewable impressions, publisher revenue will drop. This shift won't necessarily decrease ad spend from the advertisers but will, rather, start to reallocate budgets to higher viewable publishers. This is why sites with high viewability rates stand to benefit while low viewability sites could lose big.

 Average Viewability Benchmarks
   Overall Pub direct
Networks/exchanges
 comScore  46%  53%
 31%
 Double Verify
 54%  64%
 55%
 Integral  42%  61%  43%
 Moat  56%  N/A  N/A

Source: Published by comScore in July 2013, DV in Oct. 2013, Integral in Feb. 2013, Moat in Aug. 2013

Here are a few reasons why sites may register low viewability and how publishers can overcome these challenges:

1. Provide premium, consumer-friendly content.

Publisher challenge: Many pubs have links to other content scattered throughout its pages. While it can keep users on a site longer, it can also navigate the user away from seeing certain ad placements, especially those below the fold.

Suggestion: Sites should primarily focus on having premium content that consumers feel the need/want to complete. (Easier said than done, I know.) Serving ads directly next to digestible content will yield higher viewability.


2) It's not quantity; it's quality. Focus on size and location.

Publisher challenge: Some publishers pack pages with as many ads as possible in order to maximize impression volume. However, this can make a page feel cluttered and even result in illogically placed ads for which a user would never have a reason to scroll.

Suggestion: Pubs should focus on serving fewer, but bigger, ads that are rich media-enabled. Ads should be placed next to, or within, the actual content of the page. Avoid placing ads at the very bottom of the page.

3) Don't risk it. Be preventative about ad fraud.

Publisher challenge: Practices such as stacking ads or auto-refreshed ads are forms of impression fraud that can boost impression volume and result in greater publisher revenue—but they're also just plain shady.

Suggestion: Advertisers will use viewability to help identify fraudulent sites and practices. If publishers are caught performing these practices, they'll risk being cut out of the buy.

4) Be proactive. Address the concern using SafeFrames.

Publisher challenge: Though evolving and changing rapidly, the viewability landscape is undoubtedly affecting publisher credibility and revenue.

Suggestion: Publishers should proactively consider implementing SafeFrames throughout their sites. Implementing SafeFrames will act as a signal to buyers that a publisher is serious about viewability and will result in the accurate measurement of the new metric for their site.

Other reasons for poor viewability outside the control of the publisher may include users clicking off the page before the ad loads, using ad blockers, using a browser without required plug-ins to support rich media, or owning a mobile device not configured to show ad content.

The viewability landscape

The viewability landscape is very new, controversial, and rapidly changing. Will viewability make us more efficient advertisers and drive higher performance, or will it unnecessarily muddy up an already complex ecosystem? The answer to these questions will determine if it is even logical to transact on viewable impressions. However, despite hesitations, the conversation remains relevant as advertisers start to use vCPMs to determine campaign success. In the end, as this shift occurs, publishers need to be prepared to leverage better practices to accommodate the desire for viewable impressions.

Craig Simmons is product manager and strategic operations, measurement at Exponential. Prior to joining Exponential in May 2013, Craig primarily focused on implementation and ad operations at Adxpose until its acquisition by comScore in 2011. After the acquisition, he worked in corporate development at comScore.

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