For years the question of whether online ads are actually being seen has plagued advertisers. Better known as viewability, this question has become a central issue for direct and brand marketers alike. Quantcast has analysed over five billion impressions per month, across over 10,000 publishers, on every major RTB exchange, thereby evaluating every Media Rating Council-accredited viewability vendor, in multiple rounds of head to head testing. As a result, we have been able to apply the learnings to thousands of campaigns for over 400 clients.

Most interestingly, the research revealed that viewability can sometimes be more hindrance than help. Many advertisers are now asking for 100% viewability but, as an industry, are we being too quick to ask so much?

Challenges: Measurement and Inventory Availability
At the foundation of any metric is its measurability. Viewability is no different and its’ measured outcomes can be split into three categories: the two you would expect; ‘in view’ and ‘out of view’ define, as the names suggest, whether or not an ad has been viewed. It is the third category; ‘non-measured’ that presents the first issue. Our research shows that, on average, 16% of inventory cannot be measured from a viewability standpoint. This means that though an ad may be viewable the advertiser will never know as it is not defined.

Further to this, research from DoubleVerify shows that in Q3 2015 the average viewability rate across RTB exchanges in the UK was only 37%. Our research compounds this, highlighting that at a 70% viewability goal only six percent of EMEA inventory is available, dropping to three percent when aiming for 80% or more viewability. This scarcity of viewable inventory is intensified by its price – at 75% to 100% viewability, inventory costs an average of 92% more than standard RTB placements.

Missing High Value Opportunities
Therefore, high viewability metrics often mean that advertisers miss opportunities to show high value customers ads. These missed opportunities are caused by scarcity of viewable inventory, the lack of measurability on other inventory and also discrepancies between viewability vendors, due to different measurement techniques. If viewability goals are set too high these factors, when mixed with the high cost of viewable inventory, can also have an adverse effect on performance.
For now it is important for marketers to take note of the limitations, they should;

  • Run tests to find their optimal viewability rate,
  • Understand the performance trade-off that a viewability goal can cause and ensure that their attribution solution is properly aligned with their viewability aims.

Viewability will, and certainly must, continue to be focus for the industry, with new ad formats continually being developed that help increase the volume of viewable inventory. However, this research highlights that, for now, there is still a compromise to be made in terms of pricing and performance, if viewability is a priority.

For more information on viewability, including why above-the-fold inventory doesn’t necessarily mean higher viewability, how viewability is measured and how it affects performance, download our new Viewability: What Smart Marketers Need to Know guide.