Display advertising is a mainstay for digital marketers, but the necessity of scale and the glut of available inventory have made it practically impossible for buyers to not only see where their ads run, but determine whether or not consumers saw those ads as well.
While the ecosystem is aware of these flaws, it’s proven truly unwilling to change its ways. It’s almost in need of an intervention. Luckily, a growing focus on viewability may bring about the change this industry needs, with publishers themselves making a concerted effort to improve their ads.
Viewability is an attempt to define where on a page an ad appears, along with the consumer’s likelihood of seeing that ad while on that page. Sellers are now offering impressions on a viewable CPM, or vCPM, basis. While the concept could have a major impact on display sales, it’s still not the industry norm. Direct response advertisers prioritize performance, so viewability isn’t necessarily tantamount to their ad buys, but vCPM resonates with brand marketers, who value viewability more than softer metrics like clicks.
Publishers need to grab hold of the concept that ads need to be more viewable, and make it one of their core competencies when designing their pages. Non-viewable ads are not valuable to marketers, so there’s really little need for publishers to work them into their page design. For vCPM to scale in an effective manner – that is, moving toward a world where selling on true viewability is possible – ads below the fold should be considered worthless, to some degree. It’s a particularly important concept within programmatic buying, where advertisers and agencies are building protocols to avoid impressions that are below the fold. They’re doing this through the growing availability of pre-bid data, meaning that publishers that don’t adapt could be cut out if buyers prioritize viewability.
There are other factors that affect the concept of viewability, including ad density. Below the fold placements are certainly of little value, but the value of prominent placements deteriorates as well when a page is overcrowded with “viewable” inventory. Advertisers need to learn about low-value placements before their ad is served – fortunately, newer tools are solving this problem. Media verification, once bucketed as a reactive post-campaign tactic, is now moving toward an “inventory analysis” model to help judge impressions pre-bid.
Some publishers are already exploring ad formats that create stickier banners, by either fixing a bar to the bottom of the page that keeps a banner in view, or making banners that don’t scroll with the rest of the page content. While not necessarily the most groundbreaking executions, these solve problems for both marketer and publisher.
When these tools become the norm, buyers should completely eliminate below the fold impressions from their bid strategy. That inventory is not efficient, and no seller wants to pass something of little or no value along to others. Advertisers should be able to pay $2 for a 728x90 unit on the top of the page and cut their losses, rather than throw money away on units that are never seen.
Beyond static ad units or other technologies, the key to viewability’s adoption is for publishers to stop throwing ads well below the fold to juice their revenue.
While advertisers can employ new tools, they don’t have to worry about poor quality below-the-fold inventory if publishers eliminate it all together. Yes, it seems strange to suggest that fewer ads will actually improve display, but buyers who prioritize viewability will pay higher CPMs for the remaining units on a page. Efficiency will increase as well, as buyers sort through fewer impressions.
Cramming extra ads onto a page gives unscrupulous publishers a short-term gain, but it’s a losing proposition that has deflated display’s value. The shift toward viewability is the symbolic ferryman, coming to collect from the publishers who have damaged display’s reputation.