The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s push for the industry to focus more on viewability marks the latest in a decade-long series of measurement shifts, from impressions to today’s more qualitative post-click engagement. How much users engage with ads doesn’t matter as much as it once did; today we want to know how well they engage.
But for users to engage with ads, they need to see them first. Brands were up in arms earlier this year when a ComScore study showed that up to 31 percent of ads are never seen by users. On some sites, only 7 percent of ads appear “in-view,” with many others appearing below the fold or failing to load before a user navigates off the page. Even those few ads often fail the IAB’s viewability test.
Brands are starting to wonder why they’re paying for ads that never get seen. It’s a fair question. And it’s up to publishers — at least in part — to take steps to change this.
For one, publishers need to stop worrying so much about keeping ads away from editorial. Users are smarter than we give them credit for. They know how sponsored content differs from regular editorial content; they can spot an ad a mile away. If they couldn’t, brands wouldn’t have to work so hard to beat banner blindness. So don’t rule out ad formats that may encroach on your traditional edit well — there’s only so much viewable space on a page. And some of these formats — video pre-roll for one — work well for brands without alienating users. Better ads mean more clicks (which still do matter to some brands, for some goals), lower bounce rates and more purchases. All of this is clearly better for marketers.
But make no mistake: More advertising is not better. Many publishers have taken the approach of testing any and every ad technology that promises to generate income: traditional display ads, page take-overs, sponsored links and content. Being in it just for the quick buck and running roadblocks all over the place is a long-term losing proposition. On the other hand, research has shown that users don’t actually mind ads that are relevant and useful to them. Quality rules, and quality will be viewable.
Publishers need to reach out to brands as partners in creating cross-platform engagement, exploring new ways to leverage rich-media assets to connect more meaningfully with users. Brands are creating great content that resonates with consumers, and publishers need to lead the conversation about helping them surface it — on desktops, tablets and on mobile. Your advertisers will thank you, and so will your readers. You will get renewals and win over the long haul by running viewable ads with which people want to engage. After all, advertising that works for consumers will work for brands — and for publishers.
Brian White is svp of publisher solutions at Vibrant Media, an ad network.