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What Does Viewability Mean for Advertisers?

August 29th, 2014 by Alexandra

This is the third post in a series about online advertising measurement and methodologies. Feel free to email me or post in the comments section about topics you’d like to see covered in this series. Curious about Chartbeat advertising tools? Learn more here.

In the last post, we took a look at what viewability means for publishers. Now, we’re turning the tables and breaking down what viewability means for advertisers.

So, how are digital advertisers responding to the MRC’s viewability certification?

Similar to publishers, digital advertisers have started turning to viewability vendors to audit campaigns and measure the viewability of their ads. This process gives brand marketers and agencies the opportunity to monitor whether their ads have the chance to be seen and to differentiate between quality/value of ad placements. In short, viewability offers advertisers a new level of transparency that will, in effect, set new standards to which media vendors will be held.

And with that new transparency come new terms and conditions. For example, we’re slowly starting to see agencies build viewability percentage goals or viewable impression guarantees as line items in their requests for proposals (RFPs). This means that prior to advertisers signing any contracts, media sellers will either agree to optimize an advertiser’s campaign toward a certain (goal) viewability percentage, or they will guarantee a mutually agreed upon viewability percentage. Sellers will be expected to deliver on said targets in order to receive payment in full.

On a larger scale, viewability is forcing marketers to rethink their approaches to media buying. For some, that may mean rolling out a campaign and then only paying for ads that were in view. For others it may mean doing a “controlled” buy beforehand to only serve ads that are in view. As we mentioned in the previous post, publishers and advertisers are still trying to find middle ground here. That said, larger companies like Google and Yahoo!, as well as a few smaller networks, are already allowing advertisers to pay only for viewable ads. Whether that will be the go-to model moving forward is still uncertain. We’ll have more on this topic later in our series.

How are advertisers using viewability to their advantage?

Advertisers’ ability to measure and monitor viewability will potentially have significant impact on their business as a whole. As we see it, there are a few game changers:
  1. Viewable brand lift will become a real-time metric of success. On the brand marketing side, advertisers will be able to start identifying which elements increase viewability and impact, and make changes while a campaign is still running. A recent Nielsen study found that brand lift improved by 31% when responses from non-viewable ads were filtered out. Beyond seeing which ads were viewable, advertisers will be able to gain a better sense of which viewable ads resonated with their audience(s) and take those learnings to optimize future campaigns.
  2. Improving viewability will improve campaign results for advertisers. It’s not surprising that eliminating non-viewable ads (those not able to be seen by a visitor) from the equation would be a win for advertisers.  Kellogg’s, for example, found that improving viewability by 40% resulted in a 75% increase in the sales lift of a digital campaign. Receiving real-time ad viewability data—that enabled Kellogg’s to stop buying ads that nobody was seeing—had a significant impact on the company’s ROI.

By eliminating non-viewable ads from the picture, advertisers will be able to allocate more, if not all, of their campaigns to premium content sites. Let’s break it down: As I mentioned in my last post, viewability will allow sites that offer quality content and user experiences to stand out from those that do not. If we link viewability to page quality, publishers seeking to increase viewability will likely improve—if they haven’t already—the quality of their sites by making adjustments to page layouts, ad quantity and type. As site quality increases, engagement will likely increase as well, making certain pages and audiences become more valuable to advertisers. Conversely, the bad-actors (pages cluttered with ads, link-bait content) will find their inventory becoming less and less valuable to the market. Advertisers will be able to compare the performance of their campaigns across publishers, and will ultimately choose to buy ads on sites that offer both quality content and a quality audience.

In short, more transparency will lead to more informed ad buys, and theoretically, less wasted ad spend. When demand-side platforms (DSPs) optimize for viewable ads, thus taking non-viewable ads out of the equation, ad dollars will deliver more ROI.

What challenges are advertisers facing during this transition?

First, there is the obstacle of an impression being viewable versus being actually viewed. If you’ll recall, the IAB defines a viewable impression as one that’s at least 50% visible in the viewable portion of a person’s browser window for at least one second. So, technically, viewability tracks if an ad has a chance to be seen by a user, not if it actually was. Yes, an ad may have been served, but that doesn’t mean it was seen. Think, for a second, how many times you’ve done a quick scan of a page and completely missed an ad.

Note: It’s important to remember that measuring viewability is no easy feat. And while viewability may have a number of blind spots, it’s better than anything we’ve had before. Short of something (pretty crazy) like eye-tracking, viewability does do a solid job of helping to call out the bad stuff, read: non-viewable ads, link-bait content and poor quality, ad-heavy user experiences.

Second, as with publishers, many of the challenges advertisers are facing are due to the binary natures of a viewable impression. Specifically, viewability on its own does not offer a comprehensive measurement of impact or brand lift. A simple “viewable or not” fails to fully measure the effectiveness of an impression, as it doesn’t offer a nuanced view of the extent to which an ad resonated with an audience. In other words, viewability does not take into account that the amount of time beyond one second in view improves response rates. We’ll take a deeper dive into Active Exposure Time—measuring the amount of time an actively engaged audience is exposed to a display ad—and how it impacts brand recall later in the series. If you’re dying to know more now, check out this post by our chief data scientist Josh Schwartz.

And finally, the discrepancies in measurements between viewability vendors will create a few obstacles for advertisers as well. Remember how we said publishers may not get paid for ads that one vendor says aren’t viewable, even when another gave the thumbs up? Well, the same goes for advertisers, except they may end up paying for ads that nobody ever sees. Sound familiar? This isn’t the first time advertisers are facing this problem. More on the nitty-gritty mechanics of viewability measurements to come. Stay tuned...

Also in Our Series:


What Does Viewability Mean for Publishers?

August 5th, 2014 by Alexandra

This is the second post in a series about online advertising measurement and methodologies. Feel free to email me or post in the comments section about topics you’d like to see covered in this series. Curious about Chartbeat advertising tools? Learn more here.

In the last post we went back to the basics to answer “What is Viewability?” This week, we’re taking a closer look at what viewability means for publishers.

So, how are publishers responding to the MRC’s viewability certification?

Over the past year or so, many publishers have taken steps to better understand, and to improve their site’s viewability—a process that typically starts with at least one (often several) of the MRC’s dozen or so accredited vendors running viewability measurements on their site. Although results from these tests tend to vary from vendor to vendor (we’ll talk more about that in a bit), these tests have given publishers the opportunity to not only challenge preconceived notions about the value of certain ad placements, but also to make changes to their sites to optimize for viewability.

According to a recent AdMonsters report, 74% of the 50 major publishers they surveyed had completed viewability vendor testing. Of that group, 46% have already made adjustments to improve viewability, such as repositioning ads, removing ads, and implementing “Just-in-Time” ad serving to reduce load time. Many larger publishers, including Yahoo! and The Washington Post, have taken the new viewability standard as an opportunity to rethink site design on a large scale, revamping sites with cleaner, more fluid user experiences with fewer, larger ad formats.

Particularly among premium publishers, we’ve seen new site designs that are beginning to shift focus away from leaderboards and mid page ad units (MPUs) and move toward more responsive ad placements that better blend with editorial formats. A few major news sites, including,, and have also incorporated streaming content features such as continuous scrolling, where readers have a clickless transition from one article to the next, and don’t have to wait for a new page to load.

In other words, these publishers are making changes that not only increase viewability, but also improve overall user experience. The Los Angeles Times, for example, aimed to “eradicate print-centric and antiquated web concepts, such as ‘the fold,’ ‘the jump,’ ‘endless clicking,’ and ‘the dead end’...and seamlessly path readers from one piece of content to the next,” with their May redesign. In doing so, they—alongside and The Daily Beast—are creating an experience that increases the amount of time visitors spend on their site, and in effect, boosts the likelihood of consumers engaging with their content and the surrounding ads—a win for publishers, marketers, and consumers.

On the other hand, some publishers’ efforts to protect ad revenue have come at the cost of consumer experience. Think additional ads, pop-ups, page takeovers, and full-page interstitials.

Along with changes to site design and user experience, viewability is also forcing publishers to rethink pricing and yield management models. Be on the lookout for a demand-side vs. supply-side rundown later in our blog series.

How are publishers using viewability to their advantage?

As I mentioned in our first post, the new viewability standard could be very beneficial to publishers—especially those producing premium content. Let’s break it down:

  1. Premium content is more likely to grab, and most importantly, maintain, a reader’s attention. In theory, a highly engaged audience will deliver better campaign performance for marketers. Read: If the audience is engaging with content while an ad is in view, they're more likely to meet and surpass the one-second viewability requirement.Better performance will then increase demand for those ad placements, thus making ads integrated with premium content more valuable.
  2. As Jason Kint, now CEO of the Online Publisher’s Association, recently pointed out, viewability “aligns the monetization of websites more closely with the consumption of sites. The more marketers’ dollars line up with share of consumers’ time the better off content companies will be.”
  3. As ad spend shifts away from traditional media like TV, new advertising money is being allocated to digital. Viewability will offer, at least on some level, a more consistent system of attribution across media channels. As a result, we will most likely see digital media included in brand allocations more frequently. Thus, as media planners build out cross-channel campaigns and begin to trade programmatically, digital content that can deliver high viewability and prove measurable engagement will stand to benefit.

What challenges are publishers facing during this transition?

Although viewability is widely considered a step in the right direction for the industry as a whole, this progress doesn’t come without a number of challenges for publishers. Many of these challenges are due to the fact that viewable impressions are not predictable. Rather, they are a function of page placement, content makeup, and consumer behavior—a combination of moving parts that inevitably leads to a wide spectrum of viewability patterns.

Moreover, we have to take into account that an impression being viewable is binary. It’s either viewable, or it’s not. And if it’s not, it does not have value. Viewability, as it currently stands, offers a one-dimensional view of a much larger, more complex equation for evaluating the value and effectiveness of a campaign.

Unfortunately, this leaves the door open for low quality sites to exploit the system. Some sites will choose to maximize their number of viewable impressions through general bad behavior (pages covered in ads, poor quality, click-bait content, disruptive reading experiences), and in effect, decrease the value of viewability. While this behavior may not be sustainable—over time, high quality content that earns reader engagement will win out—in the short term it may create pricing obstacles for premium publishers.

Another big challenge for publishers is lack of consistency in viewability measurements. Many publishers have found that their viewability percentage varies, sometimes drastically, from vendor to vendor. On a positive note, the MRC lifting its advisory will push companies that were quick to hop on the viewability measurement train to address core technical problems in order to come into modern compliance with the council’s hard standards.

The thing is, measuring viewability is a complex challenge. (I’ve saved the technical details as for why that is for a later post.) Even with the MRC’s guidelines and accreditation process, which has drastically improved accuracy and standardized how vendors measure viewability, publishers will certainly face a number obstacles in the short term.

One very real hurdle among the many is that publishers may not get paid for impressions that an agency’s vendor reports as non-viewable, even if another vendor, has identified the ads as legitimate and running in view.

Long story short, viewability is a work in progress. But we are moving in the right direction.

Up next in our series: "What Does Viewability Mean for Advertisers?" Stay tuned...

What Is Viewability?

July 23rd, 2014 by Alexandra

This is the first post in a series about online advertising measurement and methodologies. Feel free to email me or post in the comments section about topics you’d like to see covered in this series. Curious about Chartbeat advertising tools? Learn more here.

What is viewability, you ask?

First things first: A viewable impression is a metric of online advertising that indicates if a display ad is actually viewable when its served. More specifically, the IAB and MRC define a viewable impression as one that’s at least 50% visible for at least one second.

Simply put, viewability is a metric that tracks if at least half of a display ad has the chance to be seen in the viewable portion of a browser window for at least one continuous second.

Note: technically speaking, the guidelines measure time in terms of 100 millisecond intervals, so a continuous second equates to 10 consecutive 100 millisecond observations. To add even more confusion, if the ad is 242,500 pixels or greater, only 30% needs to be in view. You can check out the full set of guidelines on the Media Rating Council's website.

Back in March, the Media Ratings Council (MRC) lifted the advisory against using viewable impressions as a currency for buying, selling, and measuring advertising in the digital display space, marking the first time the industry has established a single measurement for viewability. (While viewability has been a topic for several years now, the MRC issued an advisory against transacting on viewable impressions in November 2012 due to known technological limitations. Removal of the advisory earlier this year gave marketplace players the go ahead to transact.)

Why is viewability such a hot topic of conversation?

Digital advertisers have been pushing for measurements that would give them a better sense of how many people their campaigns actually reach. Turns out, comScore found that up to 54% of display ads aren’t viewable as a result of things like rapid scrolling, ad placements that weren’t seen, and non-human (bot) traffic. Brand marketers were not too thrilled to find out they had been paying for ad impressions that nobody was seeing and called for a system with more accountability and transparency.

So, after much deliberation, enter IAB's and MRC's new standard of measurement. The hope among the trade body is that the new viewability standard will shift the entire currency of the industry from an impressions-served standard to an impressions-viewed one.

Big picture, what will this shift mean for the digital ad ecosystem?

In short, the way online media is sold is changing. On the demand side, advertisers are gaining more transparency and will expect guarantees on viewable display impressions in the future. Theoretically, this will improve campaign performance, as eventually, advertisers will only pay for ads that have the potential to be seen.

On the supply side, opinions are varied. Some publishers are concerned that this shift will have a negative impact on ad revenues since their supply of impressions to sell may be significantly reduced. This fear has already resulted in some publishers rethinking site design to increase viewability.

On the other hand, publishers that are focusing on premium ad experiences see this as a largely positive change. If a publisher can guarantee that ads are actually being seen by an engaged audience, it can leverage those high viewability percentages to demand higher costs for certain impressions. David Payne, Chief Digital Officer at Gannett, summed it up well in a recent post: “Viewability provides us another proof point that shows how our premium content creates highly engaged audiences perfect for branding campaigns.”

So, are people really adopting viewability as the standard?

Now that the viewability standard has been set (though some folks are questioning it), viewability requests are beginning to come in to direct sales teams. Major general interest publishers are already seeing more viewability requests, and expect to see an increase in requests in Q1 2015. Smaller, endemic publishers are initiating programs to research their own sites’ viewability, so as to prepare for when they too begin to encounter viewability requests in RFPs.

Up next in our series: "What Does Viewability Mean for Publishers?" Stay tuned...

Barcelona, Here We Come

June 9th, 2014 by Alexandra

This week, the Chartbeat crew is leaving on a jet plane to set up camp at the Global Editors Network Summit in Barcelona for a few days. Tony, Adam, and Jared are looking forward to catching up with some of the best and brightest in digital media to talk all things mobile, video, and data. If you’re attending, you should swing by our masterclass and panel session.

Adam Giving you the Scoop on Attention Metrics

Adam Clarkson, our Chartbeat Publishing Product Owner, will be leading a masterclass on Thursday at 3 p.m. in Aula 2. He’ll be breaking down the research behind the Attention Web and walking through how Chartbeat tools can help editorial, display, and native teams take advantage of attention metrics to boost return visits, build loyalty across platforms and formats (mobile/video), and prove the worth of the engagement their ad campaigns receive.

Tony Breaking Down How to Measure What Matters

Our beloved CEO (and everyone’s favorite Brit), Tony Haile will be taking the stage with some bright minds from The Gates Foundation, Les Echos and ProPublica on Friday at 5 p.m. They’ll be diving into the data driven newsroom and the media metrics revolution.

Specifically, he’ll be helping you understand how your organization and front-line teams can adapt to the right metrics (hint, not just the clicks and pageviews we’ve come to rely on) to make smart decisions in real time. Give us a shout if you’re heading that way. We’d love to hear your take on things read: let’s grab sangria and tapas at L’Ovella Negra and talk shop.

You’re Invited! “Building the Attention Web” at Our Office on Monday, May 19

May 16th, 2014 by Alexandra

We’re in the business of measuring and monetizing attention on the web. We work with publishers and agencies and brands to help them do just that. In doing so, we’ve learned that in order to move the media industry past valuing only clicks and impressions, it’s going to take all of us working together.

So, let’s do it. Let’s get together to start solving the parts of the advertising and publishing world that are broken.

On Monday, May 19, we're getting a few smart folks (that’s you) together at our office in Union Square to talk about the value of content and advertising on the web.

We call it "Building the Attention Web." But you can call it free snacks and nerdery.



The panel discussion will feature:
  • Joy Robins, VP Advertising & Strategy at Quartz
  • Jen Ray, VP Account Director at Havas Media
  • Patrick Yee, Executive Vice President for Marketing & Strategy at Refinery29
  • Daniel Mintz, Head of Business Intelligence at Upworthy
  • Shane Snow, Co-founder at Contently

And of course, everyone’s favorite Brit, Tony Haile, our CEO, will be moderating the panel—by moderating we basically mean heckling and inserting as many bad puns into the conversation as possible.

So let us know if you can come. We’ll save you a seat! But wait, that's not all...

Also on our agenda for Monday: A Breakfast Engagement with Fred Wilson

Our friends over at Disqus are hosting a breakfast summit that seeks to close the gap between what advertisers and publishers measure and what matters to the people they're trying to reach.

Tony and Jay Lauf of Quartz will be squaring off to talk about premium content, premium audiences, and what’s next in the world of content measurement. The event will also have talks from folks at Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Etsy, and more.

Looks like we’ll be doing a whole lot of hanging out on Monday, huh? See you then!