Viewability – in the Search of the Silver Bullet

Viewability is a hot topic now and it’s rightfully so. It does bring a lot of logic for advertisers to pay only for those ads which were seen by potential client. And if we’d prioritize all activities which user can do on the site it’s pretty clear that from the advertisers perspective the most important is lead or action – which means that client was interested in ad and corresponding commodity/service and then – with lesser priority – comes clicks then viewable impressions then usual impressions. So ideally advertisers want to pay for actions but they have to negotiate for other metrics.

From the publisher perspective it’s exact opposite order – simply because they can to a certain extent predict and control only number of users coming to their site – thus number of impressions. So a few publishers are ready to sell their inventory on clicks or actions basis. This fight has been for years.

How viewability metric changed it?

Well, if you look for a short answer – not so much, at least as of now.

Let look why viewability is not a total solution. Mind you – I’m not saying it’s bad or something, but just why we should be pragmatic about new buzzword.

– FINANCIALS. Many companies who preach viewable impression tracking are saying that for advertisers purchasing by viewable impressions would increase ROI and publishers can also increase revenue by demanding higher rates for the quality inventory. But it’s completely unclear why the pricing would change. It has always been between risk and reward. If publishers are selling only 70% of their inventory which is viewable – they would raise prices accordingly – not to lose any money and get the same level of revenue. Ok, maybe media buyers are benefiting? Well, not really – because at the end of the day the amount of money which they paid for 1 client to see their ad hasn’t changed. They’d pay for less impressions, right, but everyone would cost more because now it’s guaranteed that user would see it thus it costs more. It would make some sense and could be the ground of negotiation but then comes the next issue.

– MEASURMENT. Unfortunately the measurement of viewable impression is not 100% accurate. There are many nuances with usage of cross domain iframes, webkits, video players, plugins etc which greatly diminish the level of accuracy. And it’s a big problem because sometimes amount of impressions which cannot be measured exceeds amount of viewable and non-viewable impressions combined.

– REAL-TIME ACCURACY. Viewability cannot be measured in advance – when you buy impression on RTB you don’t know if it will be seen. Until you’d be getting money back on non-viewed impressions – it becomes a guessing game.

– MULTIPLE MEASUREMENT METHODOLOGIES, CONSIDERABLY DIFFERENT RESULTS. Some vendors are measuring viewability via page orientation and geometry, other by browser behavior. As a result publisher and advertiser would get completely different viewability results depending on which vendor they’re using. Lack of unified standard harms credibility. Not to mention that it also prevents publishers to create site with the respect to viewability demands – as depending on vendor one can get completely different score.

– VIEWABLE NOT MEAN ACTUALLY SEEN. It’s a part which sometimes ignored in all these talks. Have you already trained your ad-blindness? On every site which you visit daily you’re quickly accustomed to ignore all those meaningless fields filled with colors and irrelevant text. But all these impressions were counted as viewable and charged to advertisers. So sometimes this metric is misleading as it’s just a baseline, not 100% accurate and saying nothing about user actually liking or reacting to an ad.

So why viewability is popular if it’s so bad? Don’t get me wrong – it’s a step in the right direction. It tries to increase transparency between digital market players. It gives additional initiative to publishers to organize their site in a proper way. It gives media buyers better tool to measure their audience. And viewability can be a powerful tool when you plan your campaign – in predicting how many actual users would see your campaign or in optimizing the reaction of these users to improve ad campaign results. It does help. Let’s just not stop there – all issues mentioned above need to be addressed for viewability to become a real game-changer.

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