When you concept and create digital display assets for your brand, the last thing you want is for them to be released into the Great Digital Beyond only to be buried by mountains of content, overlooked by overwhelmed eyeballs. The question of digital ad viewability is not a new one and the more cluttered the online-osphere gets, the harder it is to be seen and be heard. To make things extra confusing, the term ‘viewable’ or ‘viewability’ varies depending on who you ask or what source you’re taking the definition from. It also changes for the advertiser depending on whether their costs are based on a per-click or per-impression model of pricing.
Though it’s a hard term to pin down and measure, this should in no way undermine its importance to the advertising industry as a whole or each advertiser. Viewability plays a critical role in the performance of your digital display assets and by extension, your bottom line. Having regulations and standardized definitions around digital ad viewability is the first steppingstone on the path to the transparent measurement of digital assets across various media platforms, which we’ve unfortunately, not quite been able to successfully step over. To make it over this first stone, viewability needs a technical definition and an unfailing process of measurement.
While we don’t have a perfect, universal measurement system as of yet, the IAB and Media Rating Council has come up with a fairly standard definition of viewability that seems to have become somewhat widely adopted: An ad is considered viewable when 50% of a display ad is in view for at least 1 second. With video ads, 50% of the video needs to be in view and playing for at least 2 seconds for it to be considered as viewable. The ever-so-helpful Google has an interactive demo page showing this definition in action here.
Factors Affecting Viewability
Using the above definition of digital ad viewability results in four times the lift in conversions when compared to ads that don’t abide by it, according to Google. Real people need to see your ads in the wild for them to be effective but, what elements on the page do you need to be aware of that would affect their viewability? It will depend on where your ads are being served but there are a few key elements to be mindful of:
1. Page Characteristics
The length of a page will determine where your ad sits. There is most often ad real estate available above and below the fold (scroll). Of course, ads that sit above the fold are more viewable—as much as 73% for video ads and 69% for display ads— as the user doesn’t have to scroll down the page to reveal them. But as is the case with prime real estate, above the fold placements can be quite expensive and popular with other publishers, meaning that your ad could still land below the fold in some circumstances. In this case, your main concern is the length of the page and where your ad is in relation to the end of the page. Shorter pages have a higher completion/scroll rate which means that your ad will have a higher viewability rate. But a below the fold placement is by no means a hard negative for your display assets. Google reports that video ads are 45% viewable below the fold, while display ads are 47% viewable.
2. Ad Size
The size of your creative has a lot to do with how viewable it ends up being when published. Of course, Google has crawled millions of sites with millions of advertisements and so wouldn’t they know which ad sizes work best for viewability? As a matter of fact, they would! Video units, according to their report, are move viewable the bigger they are. The three best sizes for video units are reported to be 2560×1440, 667×375, and 1024×768.
As far as display units, Google Ads support documents the most used size across desktop and mobile devices as 300×250, also known as an MPU. This is the only size of display ad that can be served across mobile and desktop units, and every other screen in between! Mobile advertising otherwise favours, of course, mobile-friendly sizes such as 320×50 and 320×100. On a desktop or bigger screens, the most viewable sizes are 336×280 and 728×90.
It’s not only where your ads are that determines their viewability, but it’s also on what. Designing ads that don’t properly respond to a device screen is one of the most crucial factors when talking viewability. Between various models of mobile phones, tablets, and desktops, there’s a myriad of screens to resize to. Google has found that display ads are viewable across 55% of mobile phones, 45% of tablets, and 42% of desktop devices. These factors show how vital it is to ensure that your creative displays properly on every screen.
4. Page Speed
Speedy loading times are key for any web page but especially ones carrying the precious cargo that are your digital ads. Even a 1 second delay can reduce page views substantially—some say by up to 11%. Site speed is a constant flux of balancing Google’s specs with the individual needs of each website but for your ad’s viewability, it’s best to make sure that wherever your ad is going, it’s getting there as quick as possible.
What can I do?
Several factors that go into the viewability of an ad and quite a few of them can be out of your control. The best way to make sure that your ads will be viewable for your audience is buying high-quality inventory from a trusted vendor. Friendly iframes, an iframe that has the same domain as the host page, will also make it easier to measure your viewability and simultaneously make it easier to notice fraudulent activity on your ads.