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56% of online display ads are not seen by consumers, claims Google in first ad-viewability study


By Jessica Davies, News Editor

December 3, 2014 | 5 min read

More than half (56.1 per cent) of online display ad impressions are not seen by consumers, according to Google’s first global viewability report unveiled following a series of trials with advertisers.

The internet giant, which opened up viewability-based trading across its display network last year, letting advertisers pay only for impressions likely to be seen, has conducted its first global report into the area as it looks to “take a lead” in building understanding in viewability-based trading.

The report, which centres on impressions taken from a wide range of global publishers, from small sites such as blogs to national newspapers, across Google’s Display Network (GDN), DoubleClick for Publishers and DoubleClick ad Exchange, currently focuses on display ads but will later be expanded to cater for video and more granular mobile metrics.

The issue of viewability, which refers to whether an ad is actually in-view to readers on publishers’ websites, has become a hot topic over the last year as advertisers have increasingly questioned the accountability of their media investment.

Google has adhered to the IAB standards which specify that for an ad to be in-view, 50 per cent of pixels – so half the ad – must be in the viewable portion of an internet browser for at least one second; and two for video ads.

Speaking to The Drum, Google’s director of media buying solutions for the UK, Phil Miles, said the report forms part of the search giant’s plans to work closely with publishers and advertisers to make viewability a bigger part of the ad trading ecosystem.

“Viewability is a big focus for us, and we see it as an increasingly important [trading] currency for the digital industry,” he said.

However, the fact 56 per cent of ad impressions have been deemed not in-view has triggered concern among some advertisers.

Kellogg’s was one of the first brands to extensively test viewability metrics, having paired with ComScore earlier this year to run research around viewability-based campaigns, which remain ongoing. The brand saw a 75 per cent hike in sales lift by increasing its viewability rates by 40 per cent.

Alex Tait, digital director for EMEA at Kelloggs, said Google's study demonstrates why viewability is an important area for advertisers. "At Kellogg's we were one of the first advertisers to adopt this as an important metric and to demonstrate a clear uplift in sales and ROI by its use. For 56 per cent of impressions in the study not to be seen shows why it is an issue brand advertisers in particular need to be aware of and optimising against," he added.

Above-the-fold advertising slots have traditionally been deemed more valuable, yet the study revealed there is evidence to show that ads appearing below-the-fold also have high viewability rates, according to the report.

Ads above the fold had an average 68 per cent viewability rating, while below-the-fold was at 40 per cent.

David Ellison, marketing services manager for advertiser trade body ISBA, said that market statistics on viewability vary “considerably”, however, he added that if 56 per cent of ads aren’t being seen that will be a worry for advertisers.

“If 56 per cent of impressions are being paid for by advertisers but aren’t being viewed, advertisers will quite rightly be concerned.”

Advertisers have been concerned about viewability for some time, with the first concerns voiced in 2012, when an ISBA member demanded a move from ‘served’ to ‘viewable’ ad impressions, according to Ellison.

“This initiative makes it easier for advertisers and their agencies to move towards a ‘viewable currency’ for online ad impressions. Viewability will of course continue to be an important issue for advertisers until they are satisfied that they are getting value for money. In other words they want to pay a fair price for viewable impressions," said Ellison.

Discrepancies between how the various vendors measure viewability remains an ongoing challenge – an issue which the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) aims to address. Last month it announced that four viewability measurement products have been certified: ComScore, DoubleVerify, Integral AdScience and Moat.

Nigel Gwilliam, media and emerging technologies consultant for the IPA, agreed the 56 per cent is “higher than it should be”, but added that the report should be taken “with a pinch of salt” given it does not break out UK figures, and Google has not yet been granted ABC-verification for measuring viewability.

“There will be some question marks over this report from the IPA’s point of view, because it is across the Google Display Network so not the full spectrum of publishers, and also is not UK specific,” he added.

The report also highlighted that vertical ads perform best for viewability.

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