Most digital ads posted online – “an incredible 56.1 percent of ads on the internet,” according to a December 3 Advertising Age report – go totally unseen by human eyes. And it’s not just because of fraud or bots. “Many of the ads served on the web never appear on a screen,” says newly released research from Google – which, wouldn’t you know it, just happens to be offering a product called Active View, that helps Google advertisers track how many of the ads they place are actually viewable.
“An ad served doesn’t necessarily equal an ad viewed,” says Google in its Think online newsletter, “and digital advertisers and publishers are catching onto this as the industry shifts toward valuing viewable rather than served impressions.” Studying ad viewership on their display advertising platforms, Google and Doubleclick, they’ve identified factors that can make the difference between being seen and just being there.
Before discussing what makes an online display ad visible, though, it’s important to realize just how inadequate the industry standard for “visibility” is. According to the Media Rating Council, “a display ad is considered viewable when 50 percent of its pixels appear on the screen for at least one second.” One second, incidentally, is how long an adult takes to read slightly more than half of one five-syllable word. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.
That being said, here are five factors that can make the difference between your online display ad languishing in obscurity and achieving its one second of fame:
- Which domain your display ad runs on – While “a small number of publishers” are pulling ad viewability down to an average of 43.9 percent, the industry as a whole isn’t doing so hot either. When you eliminate those bad apples, viewability goes up to a whopping 49.8 percent, meaning that a majority of display ads – a bare majority, but a majority nonetheless – still fail to meet even that one-second industry standard.
- Ad position – Many online advertisers pay more to make their display ads less effective. A top-of-the-page position, which often goes for higher rates, is less likely to get your ad seen. The most viewable position, says Google, is “right above the fold, not at the top of the page.” (This may be because consumers interested in the website ignore the header and everything else at the top as part of the background and scroll right down to the current content.) Even ads placed below the fold are more viewable than banners across the top. While 68 percent of above-the-fold ads are viewable, so are 40 percent of those below the fold.
- Ad shape – Vertical ads are more viewable than horizontals, because they stay on the screen longer as readers scroll down.
- Ad size – The most popular sizes with advertisers aren’t the most viewable. 468 x 60 pixel ads have a 48.2 percent visibility rate. For 970 x 90 and 728 x 90, it’s even lower (45.2 and 45.0 percent respectively.) Relatively square 300 x 250 pixel ads average only 41 percent visibility, while vertical but large 300 x 600 ads do only slightly better (46.3 percent). By contrast, smaller but vertical ads average in the low 50s: 120 x 240 (55.6 percent), 240 x 400 (54.9), 160 x 600 (53.7), and 120 x 600 (52.5).
- Industry – Different content verticals have different viewability averages, though the differences are in a fairly tight range, from hobbies and leisure (44.8 percent) to online communities (48.9) and reference (51.9).
As digital advertising’s rate structure shifts from served to viewable impressions, these factors should have less of an effect on your costs than on your results.
But there’s one other factor which has the biggest effect on your online ad’s success or failure. As Google points out with brilliant mastery of the obvious, “content that holds the viewer’s attention has the highest viewability.” And that’s been glaringly evident ever since the first American newspaper ad was published, selling an Oyster Bay, Long Island, estate, in the Boston News-Letter back in 1704.
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