Ad Viewability: The Why and How to Make Your Ads More Viewable

one woman pointing to the other woman's computer screen while they look together

Viewability is one of the biggest digital ad trends of the last several years. So what is ad viewability as it pertains to digital ads and how do you improve it?

What is viewability?

The authorities on digital ads, known as the Interactive Advertising Bureau or IAB, set the standard for viewability based on the Media Rating Council (MRC) measurement guidelines.

To save you from reading the 14-page MRC Desktop Viewable Impression Guideline as well as the 19-page MRC Mobile Viewable Impression Guideline, we’ll give you the executive summary:

  • For standard IAB display ads such as a 300×250 and 728×90 banner, the ad must be loaded and have 50% of its pixels in view post-render on the screen in a focused window/tab for at least 1 second. Translation: Half of the ad must be seen by an active user for 1 second.
  • For ads larger than 242,500 pixels, or the equivalent of high impact ads such as the 970×250 billboard ad or 300×1050 rising star ad, 30% of the pixels must be in an in-focus browser tab for one second. Translation: 1/3 of large ads must be seen by a user for 1 second.
  • For video ads, 50% of the video ad must be seen for 2 seconds of continuous playback by the user. The 2 seconds does not need to be the start of the video — it can be any 2 seconds of the ad’s play time.

Although they are separate technical implementations and guidelines, both desktop and mobile have the same goal — keeping that ad in the reader’s view, for some amount of time.

Executive summary of the executive summary:

For the ad to be classified as “viewed”, 50% of it needs to be seen by a user for 1 second.

Why is Viewability Important? 

Advertisers are always looking for metrics to know the money they’re spending is working. With “direct response” campaigns, ads that can measure success off a direct action such as an online purchase, it’s easy.

Did an ad on your site lead to a purchase? If so, it worked, and that’s easy to measure.

However, these days, lots of ads are going for “brand awareness,” which doesn’t have a tangible goal that can be measured, such as a purchase. For example, GM or Coca-Cola can’t easily attribute the sale of one car or soft drink to your site and an ad that ran there.

Instead, they look for a metric they can measure, such as whether or not their ad was actually seen. The clever solution? Viewability.

Someone holds a tablet displaying teal data charts.

Why is this suddenly important? The concept of viewability has existed for years. It’s risen to prominence now because the technology is there to support it, and offer accurate measurements. Buyers like Group M are only buying on guarantees of 100% viewability, and places like Google Display Network let buyers pay only for viewed ads. AppNexus allows its buyers to buy on Guaranteed Views.

If your ad impression loaded, but wasn’t seen, the advertiser may not have to pay for it, based on their purchasing preferences with the exchange.

That’s a big deal to your bottom line.

As the rest of the industry adapts to this standard, you will need to as well. Years from now, it will be standard that if you want to be paid for the ads that are served on your site, you’ll have to make sure they’re always viewed. Now is the time to focus on improving your viewability.

How do you measure viewability? 

Shameless plug alert — if you’re a publisher with Mediavine, we already put the viewability score for each of your ad units in your dashboard, because it’s something we’ve focused on since day one.

Screenshot of the ad unit report in the Mediavine dashboard

For everyone else, there are plenty of third party services that you can pay for viewability reports, but we’d recommend starting with Google’s own ActiveView, which is provided for free with Google DFP (Doubleclick for Publishers).

How do you improve viewability?

We’ve taken many steps at Mediavine to make sure our network sees an average of 70% viewability or higher (70% is considered “tops” by most industry standards, and the goal for any ad unit).

Some of these tricks include:

  1. Rethinking Ad Placements. The common thought that ATF (above the fold) ad placements had higher viewability than BTF (below the fold) was one of our biggest misconceptions when we began.
    As asynchronously loaded ads, a lot of our ATF ad units rarely had time to fully load before a user scrolled past them. Instead of focusing ads at the top of the page, we moved ads to where users are most engaged, and killed ads that had less than 10% viewability, such as anything that runs in the footer of your site.
  2. Sticky Ads. Over the last few years, even the strictest of strict in ad policy, Google AdExchange / Adsense have begun to allow sticky ads. By having ads that stick with the user as they scroll, you’re almost guaranteed to have them be seen.
  3. Intelligent Refresh. Are you running refresh? If so, make sure you’re only refreshing your viewable ads. If you’re refreshing purely based on a timer, you’re likely hurting your overall site viewability score, which leads to less money on all your ads.
  4. Lazy Loading. We make sure to only load an ad as a user is going to scroll to an ad, which leads to a lot fewer unseen ads, and a faster site load time, as defined by search engines.
  5. Site Speed. If you load your ads asynchronously like us, a slow site can drastically lower your viewability, because your site is slowing down the loading of your ads. Readers will scroll past them before they’ve had the opportunity to load, and they don’t tend to scroll back up.
  6. Ad load speed. By removing In-Banner Video ads and other slow loading ads from our network, we’ve paved the way for Mediavine ads to load quicker and thus be seen more often.

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