The digital marketing industry needs to be weaned off its viewability fixation as conversion puts money in the bank, views don’t, says Matt Hammond, CCO, PubGalaxy.
Knowing ads have been seen is important, but it doesn’t mean they’ve reached their target audience or driven engagement. Yet viewability has been placed firmly at the heart of advertisers and agencies’ media-buying strategies impacting publishers as they strive to overhaul their sites to provide the most viewable inventory.
The principle is understandable. Nobody wants to pay for inventory that is not deemed viewable because by definition if an advert is not see it can have no impact.
However, as with any aspect of marketing if an advertiser becomes too adhered to a particular metric they can miss the overall picture. As any restaurant owner knows success is not measured by the time potential customers spend reading the menu in the window, but how many meals are actually sold.
Ticking the wrong box
The drive to raise the bar on viewability has not only led brands to prioritise a metric, which does not always measure success, but has often led them to purchasing inventory from premium generalist publishers.
There are two problems here – firstly it shifts strategy towards unfocussed, off-target audiences. Secondly many brands may not realise they are relying on a metric which has no universally accepted standard form of measurement, meaning it can vary depending on whose technology is used to measure it. Speaking to a variety of major vendors two of the most popular choices gave largely similar results. However, another consistently marked down the sites used in the experiment even though they were the same sites.
While these discrepancies may not be familiar to all many publishers will likely have experienced the same conundrum that accompanies agencies’ fixation on viewability.
An investment in redesigning desktop and mobile websites to improve viewability does not always lead to a corresponding rise in revenue. The contrast in price between premium and non-premium inventory is not normally sufficient for publishers to immediately see the benefit.
Niche publishers on the viewability front foot
So, how do quality, niche publishers get around this inconvenient truth? It is unlikely they can turn the tide on viewability altogether because many brands and agencies are setting up media plans to prioritise destinations, which appear to have better-than-average performance.
Before they move the conversation to a more in-depth exploration of engagement it makes sense to provide the market with the viewability reassurance required even if the metric is not as valuable as some brands may believe.
A good place to start is by taking a look at the fast, light pages, which load quickly to ensure the IAB’s viewability benchmark of half an ad’s pixels being viewed for a second can be verified. This is even more crucial for video because at least half the ad unit needs to be in view for two seconds.
On a related note minimising pass-backs is another obvious, but sometimes overlooked, means of speeding up performance to ensure adverts get on screen before scrolling begins.
Considering where ads are going to be seen before a user starts to scroll is vital. As you can imagine, iframes are not conducive to high viewability. Instead, vertical ad formats tend to perform best for viewability because they remain in view for longer as a person scrolls down the page. Likewise, ads served just above the fold remain in-view as the user begins to scroll down. Short pages, which offer infinite scroll and constantly update content below the fold as the users scrolls down, are also a proven way to boost viewability.
Focus on engagement
‘Mad Man’ Donald Draper once said, “if you don’t like a conversation, change it” and often referred to change as the key to advertising success. The online publishing industry needs to take heed of his advice in order to revolutionise the ecosystem.
Publishing needs to encourage an industry-wide dialogue that concentrates on outcomes rather than box-ticking to help wean advertisers off a fixation with a particular delivery metric.
Instead publishers and smaller, niche online content sources, need to position themselves as the destination of choice for driving awareness and engagement. Brands and agencies need to have their eyes opened to focusing on target audiences. Generalist sites may deliver viewability goals, but do they bring the right people to the right brand at the right time?
If you were selling televisions ticking all the right metrics might take you to general news and features on large newspaper and magazine sites. Conversely though, a lean-forward, engaged audience is more likely to be found on an expert niche audio-visual site.
Publishers cannot ignore viewability; it is too engrained in the thinking at major brands and agencies. However, a few tweaks can help them get a publisher’s house in order and pave the way for the conversation to be turned back to the question of digital marketing.
Do you want to tell the board your adverts were seen, or that a campaign led to a positive swelling of engagement? Conversions put money in the bank – views don’t.