Only 25% Of Viewers See Web Ads Below The Fold

Talk about pricey CPMs: Internet users don't even see most of the ads on a Web page, particularly if they're below the fold--whether the site is a highly trafficked media property or a niche blog. That's according to new research from MarketingSherpa.

The Warren, R.I.-based marketing research and consulting firm commissioned Eyetools to run an eye-tracking study in February with the goal of finding out how and whether on-page placement affected overall calculations of return on investment and return on ad spend (ROI and ROAS).

The study found that while an ad placed above the fold is visible to 100% of site visitors, only about 60% of them actually see it. At best, below-the-fold units are visible to roughly 70% of viewers, but only about a quarter of them actually see the ads. The ratios continue to trend downward as the ad units move from center placements to columns and spots on the far left side of the page.

Stefan Tornquist, research director at MarketingSherpa, said on-page placement is an overlooked metric when it comes to determining campaign effectiveness or ROI. It's partly due to the fact that delivery reports (whether supplied by the publisher, the ad network or a third party) rarely indicate what percentage of the media buy was served above or below the fold.

And while media buyers may be resigned to the fact that CPM-based network buys--which often, but not always, feature remnant inventory--are typically opaque, the lack of ad placement info leaves them doubly in the dark.

"It's give and take when it comes to ad placement," said Alexys Ruiz, an account manager at Los Angeles-based Revolution Media. "You can purchase specific, prominent areas on a site like a leaderboard or skyscraper, but your CPM is going to be higher than if you just purchase a blanket run-of-site within a network. But I don't think you go into it thinking that the trade-off is that people won't see the lower-priced ads. You're buying with the goal that your impressions will be viewed."

Tornquist agrees. "Often, the remnant stuff is thrown in along with juicier placements," he said. "For a million-impression deal, a sales rep might say you'll get prime placement for 100,000 really great impressions and the other 900,000 aren't as high-quality. But the media buyer would just as soon not pay for that remnant space."

But Tornquist said that the display ad space might shift from a seller's to a buyer's market in the coming months. "We see that in other areas of on- and offline marketing that there's a belief that there will be greater price flexibility related to the economy," he said. "Whether that shakes out in terms of prime placement CPMs in niche markets or causes run-of-network or remnant prices to come down further remains to be seen."

The eye-tracking study is part of MarketingSherpa's "2008 Online Advertising Handbook + Benchmarks" report, which includes research from partners like InsightExpress for overall branding metrics, Unicast for rich media measurement, and ManiaTV for online video.

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