Viewability: How to Act on This Gift to Advertisers and Return to Advertising Transparency

Viewability and engagement signals provide advertisers with the right tools to measure ad effectiveness and to determine whether or not they’re spending their media dollars effectively. Two of the most powerful signals for determining effectiveness include viewability and, of course, engagement.

Smart advertisers need the right tools to measure ad effectiveness and to determine whether or not they spent their media dollars effectively. Two of the most powerful signals for determining effectiveness include viewability, which launched onto the digital scene in 2014 and, of course, engagement (clickthroughs, time-on-site, shares, likes, follows, etc.). But how should advertisers interpret and act on these signals? And when, if ever, do these metrics overlap with each other, when it comes to buying and optimizing media?

Depending on the advertiser’s objective with a given media initiative, the answers will become far clearer.

Determine Strategic Objectives

The fact is, engagement signals should be leveraged differently and at various times, based on overarching strategic objectives. For example, advertising initiatives designed to foster product or service evaluation may rely on clickthroughs and time-on-site as measurements of ad effectiveness, out of necessity. Because of the targeted nature of the initiative that aims to elicit a response, engagement signals make sense. Optimizing for high-engagement ads, while buying viewable impressions, will likely result in a more qualified audience … at a price that may, or may not, be worth it. The advertiser simply must decide what makes economic sense on a case-by-case basis.

If an advertiser wants to drive inspiration and consideration among potential customers, then getting in front of as many viewers with whom the advertiser’s product or service could resonate becomes the primary objective. In this case, engagement metrics may fall short, as would cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) since an impression, whether viewable or not, gets factored into that calculation. Relying solely on CPM gives only a partial indication of the effectiveness of the ad spend and no indication of the ad effectiveness, whatsoever. Enter viewability.

The Importance of Measuring Viewability

While still an imperfect measurement of ad effectiveness, viewability gives advertisers the option of only paying for impressions that were, in fact, “viewable.” While there has been some ambiguity around what qualifies as “viewable,” the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Center (MRC) have made strides in standardizing the industry’s definition (opens as a PDF) of “viewable.” According to its definition, an ad is only viewable if “a minimum of 50% of the ad is rendered on a user’s browser for a minimum of one second for display ads and two seconds for video ads.”

This improved transparency and common benchmark is critical, in order to continue growing upper-funnel channels and tactics by restoring advertiser faith in the impressions reported. By differentiating between impressions-served and impressions-viewed, advertisers at least have the choice to optimize toward impressions-viewed (at a higher CPM) vs. the opaque alternative.

Viewability Tools for Publishers

Now, even Google’s instituted a “viewability” signal for publishers in its Ad Exchange called “Active View.” Accredited by the MRC, Active View measures impressions generated across publishers’ websites and apps in real-time. Because advertisers increasingly opt to buy viewable impressions, Active View provides publishers with the information they need to increase the value of their display inventory, over time. Publishers with the most viewable inventory will benefit from this buying trend.

Viewability Is Long Overdue

It’s safe to say that viewability is critical and long overdue. It does not, nor should it, devalue engagement metrics. Viewability and engagement metrics can be leveraged simultaneously or irrespectively. Again, it’s important to consider what the advertiser aims to achieve and understand the broader shift in transparency viewability offers.

In full disclosure, I was reared as a direct response marketer, so I am naturally inclined to lean on engagement signals as measurements of ad effectiveness. However, the reflex to solely rely on these metrics can be myopic. If you, too, classify yourself as a direct response marketer, performance marketer or any other flashy way to describe advertisers who care about the bottom line, then I challenge you to question what those lexicons really mean.

Be on the lookout for viewability buzz to continue gaining steam and momentum. This data signal offers much more than a simplistic measurement of ad effectiveness. It provides a return to advertising transparency that has been long under siege in the world of display. It’s a positive step and has its place in enhancing the way we think about buying media.

How Evolving Mobile Behaviors are Raising the Stakes for Marketers

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

If anything, the division of the mobile smartphone space into iOS and Android, as well as demographic and usage patterns on these platforms, means that targeting and developing effective mobile experiences just got a whole lot harder. But this is translating into more options for mobile marketers in 2012.

When you look at actual user behavior on smartphones, you might wonder how the mobile web would effectively fit in at all. The focus for both iOS and mobile users is on app usage versus mobile web access. Apps have become so successful that they’re moving us away from the web in general. The reasons are rather straightforward:

1. Curated content apps have become primary experiences. Whether public or ad supported, curated content sources (e.g., NPR and The Wall Street Journal) have found the niche within application environments that move users away from the web and directly toward branded experiences they trust as either primary or authoritative sources of information.

2. Excerpted content typically satisfies curiosity. Even more popular apps don’t necessarily translate to more mobile web activity. This has always been the fear with content syndication in general, but combine it with a preference for a more focused and curated experience and you get a further erosion of mobile web traffic.

3. The ease of use and established reliance on app stores. The effectiveness of the app store model combined with mobile context to include desktop environments further reinforces the shift from the web search route as a first stop for function resources.

Websites are driving traffic to apps instead of presenting a mobile-optimized version of themselves. Many sites could take advantage of users visiting via mobile device to optimize their experience. Instead, you should drive them to download apps that provide a specific or focused subset of content and functionality. Focus on creating a controlled and curated environment for experiencing content.

Further complicating matters are the differences in demographics and behavior between iOS and Android users. Android users tend to be heavier app users than iOS users (by a significant percentage), according to recent Fiksu research.

According to a recent Hunch.com survey, gender balances, income levels, age ranges and other important segmenting criteria also differ significantly between audiences. Certainly there’s enough to merit taking a closer look at these considerations when designing mobile experiences for these platforms. Android adoption rates make it clear that supporting Android isn’t an option; it’s a requirement in order to reach as broad a mobile and tablet audience as possible.

Tablets are an important area where the mobile web, and the higher percentage of mobile web usage among iOS users, comes into play. Tablets offer a superior web browsing experience. In addition, differing usage patterns and behaviors mean that tablet-based experiences can be deeper and richer than mobile-optimized executions and will track close to desktop browsing.

What does all of this mean for mobile marketers and advertisers in 2012? Android’s broader audience and superior mobile ad performance will make it a focus for mobile display advertising efforts. Apple’s advertising formats are of primary interest within the context of specific applications where their inclusion and application usage merit the investment. In-app advertisement effectiveness becomes even more critical to understand and measure in this context, as those investments tend to be higher than broader mobile ad networks buys.

Social platform mobile integration efforts need to be watched closely. Emerging apps and potential ad integration capabilities are key focal points for marketers already heavily invested in social platforms or for those looking to leverage location-enabled social networks more heavily.

Tablet and touch-optimized experiences via the mobile web will be critical to support the heavier skew of browser usage among tablet owners. Give specific consideration to the ability to leverage touch-enabled HTML5 implementations and the superior browsers offered by these platforms.

2012 will certainly be the year when marketers’ attention will be firmly focused on mobile, but in reality that represents separate and to some extent distinct experiences — e.g., mobile apps, mobile websites and tablet-optimized versions of both.