This is the second in a series of blog posts that will provide guidance and insight into viewability, an emerging standard within the digital advertising industry.

By Kristin Stannard, Product Marketing Manager

In Q4 of 2014, conversions/CTR, reach and viewability were identified as the most important performance metrics for marketers when evaluating programmatic media partners, based on a Marketing Trends survey of 321 brand and direct response marketers (though it was marginally more important for brand advertisers).

Most Important KPIs When Choosing a Programmatic Partner
Average rank shown, (a rank of “1” is the “most important”), n = 466

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Ad viewability is top of mind with marketers and will only continue to increase. In a recent Rocket Fuel study, we found that 55% of clients plan to have viewability on more than half or all of their 2015 marketing initiatives while only 13% say they have no viewability plans. We believe a measured approach is critical to ensure marketers achieve the intended benefits of a viewable world. Outlined below are a few important considerations every marketer should consider when defining their viewability policy in 2015.

Why 100% viewability rate is currently impossible to achieve 

There are many ways marketers can work with their partners and measurement vendors to improve in-view rate. But given the current definition of viewability, marketers should set reasonable expectations in regard to the maximum in view percentage they can achieve. 100% viewability rates are about as likely as us all agreeing what color #thedress is-for a few reasons:

  • Treasure the Ability to Measure. Sometimes, because of an ad’s format or how it’s served, viewability measurement vendors can’t actually detect whether it’s in view or not. That means a consumer could be staring longingly into an ad’s beautiful creative, but the measurement vendor would have no idea if it’s viewable or not (and would, therefore, count these impressions as “non-measurable”). As with any tag-based measurement solution, there is no way to guarantee 100% of the media exposures will be measured either because 1) the measurement pixel was unable to fully measure, or 2) the vendor was unable to determine viewability based on how or where the ad was served. Although many of the leading measurement vendors claim they can detect viewability across more than 90% of the digital media they are tagged against (and even though measurement has improved significantly over the past year), the IAB has reported discrepancies varying as widely as 30 to 40%.
  • Ad Placement. Sometimes, ads load in places that are not always immediately viewable, like at the bottom of an article. Though this placement could potentially be really valuable if a user finishes reading the article and sees the ad in a contextually relevant place, it may not always be given that opportunity. “Lazy loading” is a new(ish) method of web design that could potentially enable ads to load only as a user scrolls down the page, which would solve the problem of ads loading outside the browser. As the focus on viewability grows, we expect ad placement to become less and less of an issue.
  • Predicting the Future. Think of your most spontaneous friend, then imagine trying to accurately predict every single move he or she will make while browsing the web. Impossible, right? If a user opens a browser then clicks away or opens another browser before the required time limit for an ad to become viewable, ad viewability will not be achieved. Unless human behavior becomes 100% predictable, it will be impossible to forecast what a user will do when browsing the web with total accuracy.
So, if not 100%, what viewability rate should advertisers expect? 

We’re glad you asked. As a whole, ad networks and exchanges have traditionally delivered lower viewability than media purchased directly from publishers. Currently, average viewability rates for display are 43% while average video viewability rates are even lower at 39%. While 100% viewability rates may not ever be achievable, we believe that all stakeholders should be demanding higher in-view rates, between 50% and 70% across networks and exchanges (dependent upon campaign goals). Over time, we expect the upper bounds of this range to continue to improve. In the meantime, if the advertiser wants to make sure it is only paying for viewable impressions, then it should look into viewable guarantees or viewable CPM (vCPM) transactions.

Viewability rate is not the same as a viewable guarantee percentage

Though 100% viewability rates are impossible to achieve, it is still possible to make sure that 100% of the impressions you pay for are viewable. This is typically called either a viewable guarantee or vCPM transaction, and it means you are able to set the requirement for the number (or percentage) of viewable impressions you want to be guaranteed, and that’s all you’ll need to pay for.

Viewable impressions will cost more than served impressions

After conducting a study across 505 million impressions from nine campaigns, Rocket Fuel found that, of the inventory that could be measured, viewable ads cost 25% more than non-viewable ones. This makes sense because as the amount of total inventory shrinks to ensure higher viewability, the remaining spots become more valuable. We believe that if all stakeholders (advertisers/agencies, ad tech companies, publishers) pitch in to solve the problem of low viewability, everyone will start to derive even higher value from this more expensive inventory pricing.

Viewability is one of many features that drive digital advertising success

Viewability should be considered a diagnostic, not necessarily the final destination. We absolutely understand viewability’s importance and believe that the amount of non-viewable inventory in the marketplace has definitely been a problem needing rectification. However, just because an ad is likely to be viewed doesn’t necessarily mean it will be relevant to that particular consumer at that time and drive the ultimate business impact you’re hoping for. Realize that due to the increasing inventory costs and demand for highly viewable inventory, there will be fewer opportunities to reach and engage your target customer, which could potentially impact your performance objectives.

For 2015 and this ‘year of transition’ toward viewable impression transactions, we recommend setting realistic expectations. By making sure key players are fully educated on the benefits and limitations of viewability, we think the industry will be in a better place to make this transition smooth and successful. Please tune in for the next viewability blog post so we can help clear up the confusion around distinguishing viewability and ad fraud.

1. Rocket Fuel Q4 Client Feedback Study run in February 2015 with 279 marketer and agency professional respondents in the US

See Also:

Rocket Fuel’s Viewability Offering for Online Ads

Five Tips to Drive Successful Ad Viewability Marketing Programs

Maximize Marketing ROI: The Logical Connection Between Ad Viewability and Traffic Quality

Viewability: Look How Far We’ve Come