Viewability has much more gray area than you realize [Study]

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Perfect viewability should be your goal, right? Not necessarily, according to new research that highlights the fact that viewability isn’t quite that simple.

According to new research by programmatic company Goodway Group, seeing ads that are measured as viewable results in people converting at an 8 to 9 percent more. That sounds fairly obvious; of course people are more impacted by ads they can actually see. But the real finding of the Applying Viewability Intelligently for Measurably Improved Performance study, which was released this morning, is that viewability isn’t that black and white.

After looking at 1 billion impressions, Goodway Group also found that sites with nearly 100 percent viewability are actually the worst-performing sites in the programmatic ecosystem. Jay Friedman, chief operating officer of Goodway Group, points out that just because an ad registers as viewable, that doesn’t mean someone actually viewed it.

“The ad can be front and center on your screen, but if you’re not paying attention and working in Gmail, it’s not viewable to your eyes. Not all vendors take that into consideration,” says Friedman. “It’s not that 100 percent viewability is bad. It’s that the sites that appear to give you the best viewability are not necessarily the sites that help you convert the most.”

The simplification of viewability

In Friedman’s opinion, too many marketers tend to simplify viewability.

“The IAB standard is, if an ad is seen for one full second, it’s in view. If it’s seen for .999 seconds, it’s not,” explains Friedman. “But if you have an ad with The Most Interesting Man in the World in it, do you really need to see that for a full second to be able to grasp who and what it is? And if you have an ad for a brand new product and creative you’ve never seen before, is a second even enough?”

Viewability may impact conversions, but the two aren’t synonymous terms. Therefore, making sure your ad has 100 percent viewability shouldn’t necessarily be your top priority.

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Goodway Group’s research found that viewability in the 30-40 and 70-80 percent ranges actually result in the most conversions. With regard to the former, many vendors intentionally pay low prices for low-viewability, high-conversion sites and attach their cookies to as many users as possible. That way, it looks like the ad caused a conversion when really, the user never even saw the ad and was going to buy movie tickets on Fandango anyway.

Friedman believes that marketers are too married to math. If they pay $4 for 1,000 impressions at 50 percent viewability, they think $8 will get them 100 percent viewability and it doesn’t always work that way. Often, sites charge more money as an insurance policy, in case the viewability goes down.

“It’s the same thing as if I give you two bags with 100 bracelets. One costs $1 million and 50 of them are Tiffany bracelets. In the other bag, all 100 are Tiffany, but it’s $5 million,” says Friedman.

What can you do?

Viewability may not be the absolute be-all and end-all online advertising, but it’s still important to make sure your ads are seen. Beyond understanding that viewability isn’t as simple as “the higher the number, the more conversions,” here are three things marketers can do to ensure their ads aren’t invisible.

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1. Embrace audio ads

Problems with viewability are a natural byproduct of the Internet because there are simply so many places for your eye to move. Aural ads don’t have those same pitfalls; if an ad comes on your Spotify station, you have no choice but to hear it.

“Most consumption of audio today is streaming, whether it’s spoken word content or music. If they insert an ad between your two songs, you’re going to hear the whole ad; there’s a 100 percent awareness,” says Bret Kinsella, chief marketing officer of XAPPmedia, which makes audio ads more interactive.

 

2. Change your metrics

Kinsella agrees with Friedman that marketers can get too bogged down with numbers. If your ad resulted in all the impressions in the world, but ultimately no conversions, was it really that successful?

“[Marketers] should shift toward cost-per-action, rather than cost-per-impression. They know someone saw the ad, but if they moved to CTA, they would have much better metrics,” he says. “If you focus on an action-based metric, you can actually measure [the ad’s] direct impact; if someone clicks on it, you know they saw it and you can use it as a proxy for other people.”

3. Data

Because everything around viewability is so complicated, it helps to have the most sophisticated data practice possible. Maybe your ad did result in a conversion, or maybe your ad wasn’t in view and that conversion was going to happen regardless.

Having sufficient technology – and even a data scientist, if possible – can help you ascertain which one is which.

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