A view from Anant Joshi

Why aren't all ads viewable?

Publishers are having a tough time, taking fire from customers on both sides while readers block ads and advertisers complain about viewability, writes Anant Joshi,...

As with any problem you can’t really solve it until you fully understand it and, when it comes to viewability, this requires understanding why ads aren’t viewable in the first place.

What’s more, in doing so, the answers may provide the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by providing possible clues about how to reduce ad blocking.

Why aren’t ads viewable?

First, some context. Around 46% of ad impressions served aren’t currently viewable – an improvement on 51% a year ago but clearly still not good enough.

The main two reasons why ads aren’t viewable are they’re served below the fold (ie on part of the web-page that the viewer didn’t scroll down far enough to see) or that the ad didn’t load quickly enough before the viewer moved elsewhere. Each reason accounts for roughly 15% of all impressions served or, combined, nearly 70% of non-viewable impressions.

Around 5% of all impressions aren’t viewable because they’re above the highest position on the page (ie the viewer scrolls down the page before its loaded), while 10% are served on a page within a tab that’s inactive on the user’s screen (eg caused by ad slots which auto-reload even if the user has moved the page to the background minutes ago).

The main two reasons why ads aren’t viewable are they’re served below the fold or that the ad didn’t load quickly enough before the viewer moved elsewhere. 

Together, these account for about 30% of non-viewable impressions. Thus, these four factors pretty much account for non-viewable ads.

Armed with this information, publishers can now get a sense of whether ads aren’t viewable because of something they’re doing – slow loading times or ads being badly positioned –  or whether it’s down to how consumers are behaving, perhaps they scroll away so quickly or their attention wasn’t there due to floating about in different tabs.

The Telegraph is the latest publisher to try to address this by promising advertisers will only have to pay for display ads if they are 100% viewable for ten seconds It’s worth pointing out the figures are across all the campaigns we’ve observed, so are likely to differ considerably between publishers and even across different sections or pages within a publisher’s own site.

Why ads aren’t viewable is often overlooked, which is why we added a simple widget to allow clients to see the exact reasons for non-viewability in a quick and intuitive way without having to waste time analysing large data tables.

So, what can you do?

Knowing why ads aren’t viewable indicates how you need to optimise your site in terms of layout or the ratio of content-to-ads to concurrently meet the needs of your two customers – visitors (a better site experience) and advertisers (more viewable ads).

For example, a high percentage of ads within a too little area could mean your responsive design techniques need addressing. Make sure that your inventory has the full potential to become visible for every single device or screen setting.

If a high percentage of ads aren’t viewable because of too short a time frame, your ad sizes or pages are probably too heavy, causing long load times. If you notice a very high proportion of ads are placed below the fold, it’s a strong signal to "dress up" the content in that area. Try to make it stickier. Alternatively, you could also move the placements to more attractive sections of the page.

On the other hand, it’s not only about optimising on viewability alone. There is a link to a decline in publisher revenue and high levels of ad blocking – about 25% of Europe’s online users currently surf with activated ad blockers.

Thus, it can be very helpful to monitor the view-time and the clutter of your placements. Unfortunately this problem can only be solved if the whole industry starts to optimise its inventory towards user friendliness. In the end, it’s about having a healthy relationship with the audience who appreciate that valuable editorial content needs to be funded by advertising.

Keeping the faith

I get the sense that all parties – publishers, advertisers, consumers –  are losing some faith about what’s going on with online advertising.

It’s a very complex issue, of course, but sometimes we can make life more straightforward. Understanding the causes of non-viewability enables these issues to be addressed.

The result is a better experience for both consumers, which means less ad blocking and more impressions are being served, of which more are likely to be viewable – something that keeps advertisers happy.

If both these parties are happy, then publishers certainly will be as they both lead to more revenue. Keep the faith.

Anant Joshi is director of international business at Meetrics