Advertising traditionally has had one big problem: you pay for potential viewers, not for actual views.
That TV station tells you how many viewers they think tune into their show, based on admittedly shaky data from a small segment of viewers who are often self-reporting. The numbers they give you are for potential viewers, and don’t adjust for the large proportion of viewers who leave the room, look away from the screen and talk with people, or switch their attention to their cell phones when a commercial comes on.
The billboard company tells you how many people drive or walk past that billboard, as best they can tell, and not the number of people who look at it. The newspaper’s advertising department tells you their paper’s circulation — as far as they know — without considering how many pages end up on the bottom of the birdcage before anyone sees them.
Online advertising is the exception. But Google has recently announced a new metric: viewability. And along with that metric, they’ve announced the factors they believe contribute to viewability.
Headlines in many cases are saying things like “Only 56% of Google ads are ever seen!” It’s easy to get the feeling that something has changed, or that maybe all your pay per click ads so far have been worthless. That’s not the case.
First, this doesn’t affect pay per click or cost per click. The new metric of viewability is based on half of an ad’s pixels being visible for at least one second. If someone clicks through your ad, you can be confident that someone has seen it for more than one second, simply because most people’s reflexes aren’t that good. If you pay only when someone clicks through, then you are not paying for ads that are not seen.
It comes up when people pay for impressions: potential views. That’s like print ads or TV ads or billboards. When you pay for impressions, you are paying every time the ad is served, not just when someone clicks through. This is like “reach” on social media — the number of people who could have seen it, if they happened to be looking. And Google is working to come up with a good way to measure impressions better.
So what does viewability mean, exactly? An ad is not viewable if someone scrolls by it so fast that it doesn’t load fully. What ads catch people’s eyes? Ads that are about something which is already interesting to the viewer. Ads that are appealing to the particular viewer. Ads that look good and convey information on the screen your customer happens to be looking at. Ads that are in the right place at the right time.
Google tells us that a small number of publishers account for the largest amount of unviewable ads. In other words, some people are doing it wrong. How can you do it right?
You need to know your customer well. You need to invest in quality creative work for your ads. You need to track and measure them so that you can optimize your viewability… if you’re paying for impressions.
And, if you are paying for impressions, you should be pleased that Google has come up with some good ways to measure views. Unlike legacy media, digital media continues to give you a very high level of information about the people who interact with your promotions.