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.