The Role of Viewability

June 23, 2017 — by Michael Neiss

Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion about viewabilty. Does viewability really matter though? The answer is a frustrating “yes, but…”

Viewability tends to matter less for direct-response advertisers. Because such marketers have no trouble measuring the outcome they’re trying to achieve, they can afford to treat viewability as a means to an end rather than an end unto itself. DR advertisers care whether their ads are visible, but the visibility (or lack thereof) will manifest in incremental sales, which is the bottom line.

But brand marketers are in a different position. They often don’t have the luxury of an easy-to-measure success metric because the bulk of their sales take place in an environment that’s hard to attribute to digital marketing (such as a brick-and-mortar supermarket) or relate to a product with a very long consideration cycle (such as a car). If it’s hard to directly attribute media spend to the outcome you care about, measuring the quality of that media is the next best option. So for brand marketers, the primary goal is usually just to ensure that they convey an engaging, impactful message to the right audience. That makes viewability a natural fit.

Is Maximizing Viewability a Good Idea?

It might be tempting to aim for 100% viewability, but this probably isn’t achievable for most digital campaigns. That’s because you can’t know in advance whether most impressions will be viewed before they’re served. Most pages tend to load all of their content and advertisements at once, which means you have to bid on the impression before knowing whether the user will scroll to the middle of the page where it renders. As a result, advertisers usually shoot for somewhere in the 60-70% range.

Even if you could achieve 100% viewability, should that be your goal? If the campaign only reached a handful of users or bought inventory at an exorbitant cost, it would be tough to consider it a success. That’s the challenge with using viewability as the sole measure of a campaign’s performance. All things being equal, it’s better to reach 1,000 people in a campaign with 70% viewability than 500 people with 100% viewability. Cost per viewable impression (aka viewable CPM) might be a better metric than viewability in many cases.

Optimizing Viewability

With MediaMath’s viewability solution, you can select a third-party partner to verify whether impressions were viewable and use their measurement as the success metric for algorithmic optimization. Harnessing machine learning is critical—studies have shown that many variables influence the likelihood that an ad will be viewed, and the impact of these variables varies by vertical. We update our models every 24 hours to ensure we’re capturing up-to-date changes in inventory and performance.

And we offer these tools because our customers ask for them. But assigning the importance of viewability is every marketer’s individual judgment call. In other words, how much viewability matters varies depending on who you are and what goals you’re trying to achieve.