Taking a Closer Look at Viewability

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  • October 29, 2015
viewability bonadza

Today’s advertising reality belongs to programmatic. Its hyper growth has encouraged marketers to change their strategies. They now aim for transparent, more efficient, and cost-effective campaigns. However, the rise of programmatic brought several issues on the surface, among which ad fraud and viewability are one of the most discussed. Although it’s not new, viewability has become the issue of the year.

Defining viewability

Basically, it is the measurement of an ad’s potential to be seen by a user. It’s an important metric, because if the ad is viewable, it will have the chance to be seen. Then, it can cause engagement or promote brand awareness.

But the devil is in the details, and here, that’s the potential. Marketers tend to overlook this detail when they think they’ve figured out viewability. Setting a definition and a standard for viewability doesn’t guarantee that the ad will be seen. And it doesn’t mean it will generate brand perception, as Sherrill Mane, SVP of research, analytics and measurement at the IAB has outlined, adding that how well an ad works has nothing to do with viewability.

Setting up a framework

Even though viewability is not a new term, it has recently become a buzzword, often used in wrong contexts. This state resulted in adopting a standard and a larger framework in order to make things clear.

The Media Rating Council (MRC) published a guide for measurement of viewable impressions, which supplements the following ad measurement guidelines of the IAB:

According to these, a desktop display ad is considered viewable if 50% of its pixels are in view for at least a second. The desktop video standard is 50% for 2 seconds. For larger desktop ad units, the standard is 30% of pixels in view for 1 second.

Viewability on mobile devices

Regarding mobile browser ads, there is no specific measurement guide for the time being. Therefore, the MRC’s standpoint is that those that measure viewability of mobile browser-based ads should use the same guidelines for desktop ads.

However, it is further added that impressions served in a mobile-app environment are generally assumed to be viewable, as noted in the Mobile Application Advertising Measurement Guidelines issued by the IAB.

IAB’s standpoint

The IAB’s aim is to transform digital media transactions and improve results for all parties included. Therefore, they published a document to set the industry on a path of collaboration in the shortest amount of time. This document is the State of Viewability Transaction.

Is 100% viewability reachable?

This document clearly states that vendors cannot measure viewability in 100% for the time being with the existing technology and tools. This is expected to improve in the future. Further, it also notes that many high impact placements are not consistently measurable, largely due to page takeovers, road blocks, and other custom placements. Simply put, if you aim for 100% viewability outcome, your media plan will be inefficient.

With this in mind, the industry has a lot of work to do in order to handle custom placements in the measurement standard. However, the MRC’s guideline should be kept in mind, which states that “non-measured impressions should not be assumed as non-viewable impressions”.

Served ads vs. viewed ads

One of the main discussions regarding the issue of viewability is the talk about served versus viewed ads. Advertisers increasingly want every cent of their ad budgets to be well spent. This means they want to pay for viewed ads instead of paying for served ads.

In order to address this matter, both publishers and advertisers should follow the principles established in the IAB’s State of Viewability Transaction. The first principle states that all billing should continue to be based on the number of Served Impressions during a campaign. These should be separated into two categories: Measured and Non-Measured. So far, this rounds up the discussion about buying only viewable ads.

Viewability factors

The rise of this issue and its introduction as a new metric seriously shifted the display ad environment.
In order to improve their performance and strategies, both publishers and advertisers should keep in mind some common factors which affect the ad’s potential to be seen.

In the light of this matter, Google published a report on factors that affect ad viewability, and here’s a summary of their infographic:

  1. 56.1 percent of display ad impressions are never viewed. The average publisher viewability is 50.2 percent.
  2. The most viewable position for an ad is just above the fold, and this applies for 300 x 250, 728 x 90 and 320 x 50 units.
  3. Ad size matters, big time. Vertical ads are the most visible ones. They stay on screen longer, as users move around the page. 120 x 240 ad unit has the highest viewability rate.
  4. Above the fold doesn’t mean viewable at all times. Not all above-the-fold impressions are viewable. For example, this position holds 68% viewability rate, nowhere near full 100% viewability. On the other hand, below the fold ads have a 40% viewability rate.
  5. Viewability varies across industries. The content that holds the user’s attention has the highest viewability.

Viewable impressions only? – Not so fast

Considering all the points we mentioned so far, and having in mind the guidelines by relevant institutions, it seems fairly logical to summarize all the facts and arguments into one simple question: Should marketers buy only viewable impressions?

The answer would be no, especially with programmatic buying. In programmatic, impressions have viewability score before bidding, based on probability. If impressions don’t have a high probability of being viewed, it still doesn’t mean they won’t be viewed. Therefore, buyers can miss out valuable impressions with probably a lower CPM than the viewable ones. Due to these reasons, viewability shouldn’t be the only focus of an ad campaign.

The best way to optimize viewability is to track the results and make decisions based on site’s viewability score, and exclude placements with poor viewability score.

Not all sites have the same viewability scores. Google has found that only a small number of publishers serve most of the non-viewable impressions. Therefore, if marketers optimize their campaigns for sites with higher viewability score, they can expect better results.

The “golden” above-the-fold position should be reconsidered. Below the fold position has long been underestimated. In fact, this can be a desirable position for advertisers in contexts when a user scrolls down past a banner ad to view something lower on the page. It’s time to leave behind the strict standpoints that only a few page positions work, and start seeing things from a different angle.

This being said, instead of chasing viewability rates and expecting results based on this only, marketers should focus their campaigns on other goals, while keeping it in mind as a valuable metric.


Despite the issues, solutions are being developed as we speak. This new metric can work for everyone. It is an additional incentive for publishers as it motivates them to organize their sites better. It also helps them increase transparency among marketers.
For media buyers, it is an effective measurement tool. It’s also a powerful element in campaign strategies and helps their optimization.
Finally, everyone in the industry would benefit from reliable and efficient viewability solutions and technology.

Tosho Tanevski

Tosho Tanevski

As co-founder and director of marketing at Bonadza, I'm in charge of online and offline marketing in our company and I'm constantly following the changes in the display environment.

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