56.1% of online ads are not seen, says Google

A new Google study challenges traditionally held views of online banner placements and viewability. The study advises advertisers and publishers to understand the relationship

e4m by Abhinn Shreshtha
Updated: Dec 15, 2014 8:04 AM  | 4 min read
56.1% of online ads are not seen, says Google

A new Google study has once again raised the question about how effective display advertising on the digital platform actually is. In a report titled "5 Factors of Viewability" the online giant has turned a few long held beliefs about digital display ads on their head. One of the most pertinent points that Google raises is how many ads are actually seen by visitors. Almost 56.1 per cent are not says Google.

"With the advancement of new technologies we now know that many display ads that are served never actually have the opportunity to be seen by a user. A recent study of Active View data by Google, we found that 56.1% of all ads served were not measured viewable. Yet, the average publisher’s viewability is 50.2%. This means a small number of publishers are serving the majority of non-viewable impressions and dragging down the served impression viewability average by almost 6%," wrote Sanaz Ahari, Group Product Manager at Google.

Active View is a Google metric that tracks how ads are viewed online. The Media Rating Council defines a viewed ad as a display ad where 50% of its pixels are on screen for a minimum of one second. This means that according to Google the majority of online ads are on screen for less than a second.

Understanding viewability of their ads has been gaining more attention recently, especially given the capability of digital platforms to offer higher measurability and transparency. Unlike TV or print ads, where the user cannot be tracked after he goes off the seat during an ad break; in digital display, a user can be tracked by the banner pixels (per cent) downloaded and time he is exposed to the banner. So how does this affect advertisers?

According to Lavin Punjabi, President of Affinity, since most Indian Advertisers pay by CPC or CPL, the impact of viewability is not a lot. The more relevant issue he says is banner blindness and figuring out whether the views or clicks are from human or bots. Banner blindness is a condition where visitors ignore display ads. A 2013 study suggested that 86% of consumers suffered from banner blindness.

"Establishing viewability benchmarks is a step in the right direction , but it has a long way to go. At Affinity, we are constantly investing in ad-formats which are viewed as opposed to viewable," said Punjabi.

However, though from a monetary perspective it might not make much of a difference, it raises questions about the efficacy of display ads. For example, advertisers will be interested if their communication has reached the audience and if, as the study suggests, that the majority of ads are on screen for less than a second then one can assume that this is not the case.

Amit Gupta, Managing Partner at Httpool agrees that viewability definitely plays an important role in this case. He opined that research among the exposed group (user who has already seen the ad) to understand their perception of the ad and then optimising the ad continuously could be one way of tackling the issue.

It is not that ad networks and digital agencies are blind to the issue. There are various attempts being made to make increase the viewability quotient of ads by new ad formats as well making ads more contextual. Google and industry associations have been pushing for better metrics to measure viewability.

One of the solutions to all these issues, said agencies we spoke to lies in developing new ad formats. "Innovative formats of ads need to be introduced where the user initiates the ads and only then engages with the brand. We at Httpool have also tried tackling the problem of banner placements in the second or lower scroll with a product "In-Article video", wherein the user is exposed to video ads within the article only when he scrolls down to read a longer article," explained Amit Gupta, Managing Partner at Httpool.

Some of the other key takeaways from the Google study were that the most viewed position for an ad were just above the page fold and not at the top. The study also stated that not all 'above the fold' ads were the most viewable and many times, ' below the fold' ads were more viewed. This could be attributed to users scrolling the page too quickly and are things that need to be taken into consideration.

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