Viewability in media, advertising and digital marketing

What is viewability in digital advertising? How do you calculate it? What are the current standards adopted across the industry?


Viewability calculator



What is viewability in digital advertising?

Viewability in digital advertising and marketing is the percentage (%) of the total number of impressions served that were "in-view" to the user. The definition of "in-view" is a hotly debated subject, but the current most widely adopted standard is from the MRC (Media Ratings Council) and is follows:

  • Display ads (i.e. banners): 50% of the ad (pixels) has to be served above the fold for greater than or equal to 1 second, post-ad render
  • Video ads: 50% of the ad (pixels) has to be served above the fold for greater than or equal to 2 consecutive seconds, post-ad render

More information about the MRC standards can be found here.

And more information about the IAB's guidelines can be found here.

Viewability was introduced to allow advertisers and agencies to measure how much of the display and video impressions they were buying were actually being served and had the chance to be seen. Before, you had to trust that a publisher would serve impressions above the fold. This was a key issue when programmatic buying methods were first introduced, as often the inventory available was remnant, i.e. low quality, below the fold impressions the direct advertisers were not buying.

Nowadays, viewability is a key metric that programmatic traders and buyers focus on when managing campaigns. All major DSPs will report on it, alongside third party ad verification vendors such as Integral Ad Science, MOAT or DoubleVerify.

Viewability formula

To calculate viewability, you need the following metrics:

1. Impressions served in-view (taken from your ad verification provider or DSP)

2. Total impressions served

marketing-viewability-formula-equation

What is a good viewability rate? What are the benchmarks?

This is a tricky question as ultimately it depends on what your campaign goals are. If it is brand focused, and you want to reach your target audience (not necessarily wanting them to click) and catch their attention, then you want to optimise your programmatic bidding to high in-view placements. 60% - 70% viewability should be a minimum.

If your goal is more performance based, if you want a user to convert or visit your website, then you should not worry as much about viewability compared to branding campaigns. This is because it is very hard to optimise towards both performance AND viewability. As a performance advertiser, you can afford to bid and win lower viewability impressions if the impressions that you are winning are driving business results.

Despite seeming counter-intuitive, having a high overall viewability, serving ads that are more likely to be served above the fold in key positions of a website, may not drive performance goals (i.e. conversions or clicks). You must find the right balance between a strong viewability level and performance goals (CPA, CPC, etc.).

Why do I have a low viewability?

Remember, low viewability (i.e. 50%) may not be a bad thing if the 50% of the ads served in view are driving a strong performance in regards to your KPI. However, if viewability is one of your main objectives, then there are a number of reasons why it could be low.

If you are running a programatic display or video campaign, you may simply be bidding too low a CPM in your DSP. The lower the bid, the more likely you will win the less desirable inventory, which is often found below the fold on publishers’ websites.

You also may be bidding and optimising towards another objective so for your bid, the DSP is prioritising other metrics over viewability.

Furthermore, you should review how long it takes for your ad to load. If it is heavy and uses rich media (video and other heavy animation), then the ad might not be loading in time for your verification solution to register the ad in-view. Look to using simpler ads, switch to HTML5 creative as standard and optimise the creative so that it is a smaller file size. Non-IAB standard formats sometimes have trouble recording viewabilty correctly so always check with your verification supplier for any troubleshooting.

We recommend reviewing the "time in-view” metric (Integral Ad Science offers this: https://integralads.com/capabilities/time-in-view/) to see how long your ads were actually in-view on the page. This is crucial for video campaigns - how do you know if your video ad is always playing in-view?

How do I improve the viewability of my campaign?

The main way of improving your campaign viewability will be by optimising (increasing) bids to the sitelists, inventory and supply sources, audiences and ad formats that are driving the strongest rate. This has to be done in relation to the maximum bid you planned the campaign at as increasing the bid to get perfect 100% viewability will increase your CPM to levels far higher than you originally planned for.

Other ways involve buying impressions on a vCPM (viewable cost per 1000 impressions). You will pay a premium, but every impression measured out-of-view by your third party supplier will not be billed to you. This means you will only pay for in-view impressions.

If you are buying video impressions, we recommend you also pay a premium for video formats that pause out of view. If not, the video will likely play even if the users scrolls past it.

Related metrics