Putting the ‘view’ in view-through conversions

Babak Pahlavan May 2018 Advertising

Google’s Senior Director of Product Management Babak Pahlavan discusses the importance of viewability for both brand and performance advertising.

Nearly four years ago, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Council (MRC) created a standard definition of ad viewability: At least 50% of an ad must be in view for a minimum of one second for display ads or two seconds for video ads. But our industry still hasn’t fully embraced these guidelines, which has led to individual marketers and media providers using different definitions of what it means for an ad to be visible.

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That’s a big problem. Because when consistent advertising viewability standards aren’t used, marketers may come to inaccurate conclusions about the effectiveness of their ads, which could lead to misguided buying decisions and suboptimal results.

As part of Google’s ongoing efforts to lay a foundation for better measurement, we are committed to using the MRC viewability threshold as a baseline for all impression-based metrics, wherever possible.

Viewability is important – to everyone 

Traditionally, the industry has focused on viewability solely for brand advertising. And it has proven to be a valuable metric for brand campaigns, with research showing a consistent relationship between how long an ad is viewable and increases in awareness and consideration.

But what about performance advertising? We recently conducted new research that provided insight on the question of whether viewability is as important for performance outcomes, such as conversions, as it is for brand outcomes.

Short answer: It is. Using the MRC definition of ad viewability, our study concluded that viewable display ads across the Google Display Network had a 4X higher lift in conversions than display ads that don’t meet the MRC standard.1 And while we saw a significant lift in conversions for viewable video ads on YouTube, we were unable to quantify the relative impact because there was no significant lift in conversions for non-viewable video ads.

It may sound obvious, but ads that have a chance to be seen are the ones that drive business results.

A consistent standard for all impression-based metrics 

Our research highlights that if MRC ad viewability standards aren’t applied consistently across our industry, performance marketers will see reporting that shows an inflated number of conversions from ads that weren’t clicked and didn’t have a chance to be seen.

An ad doesn’t necessarily have to be clicked for it to be effective, but if you are valuing media beyond clicks, accurately calculating view-through conversions is important. If advertisers include conversions from ads that never had a chance to be seen, they could be overvaluing view-through conversions from unseen impressions, incorrectly calculating cost per acquisition (CPA) of different media sources, and making ill-informed spending decisions.

That’s clearly something marketers want to avoid.

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“At Goodyear, we appreciate accurate reporting of our digital marketing and advertising efforts,” said Matt Wilkinson, general manager of digital marketing and customer acquisition at Goodyear. “Setting a common industry standard allows advertisers to more appropriately value a view-through conversion and creates ways to attribute credit to display and video units in a consistent and methodical manner.”

Moving towards industry-wide adoption 

The way forward is simple: Marketers need to demand that MRC-defined viewability standards are used for all impression-based metrics from every media partner. Since viewability is now the baseline expectation, it’s time to ensure that every downstream metric meets this bar.

George Ivie, CEO and executive director of the MRC, said it best. “The MRC created viewable ad impression measurement guidelines so that industry participants can have confidence that all digital advertising metrics are valid, reliable and effective. Applying the same guidelines to view-through conversions, so that only those impressions where viewability requirements are met are eligible for credit, is a logical next step to bring more consistency and trust to measurement of both brand and performance campaigns. MRC plans to add this use of viewable criteria to our standards processes for industry consideration.”

Ultimately, it’s not just about trust in the ad ecosystem. It’s about better business results.

“The concept of viewability – the opportunity to be seen – is the baseline for effective advertising,” said Moat Co-Founder and SVP of Oracle Data Cloud, Jonah Goodhart. “We’ve consistently seen that viewable ads lead to performance gains and non-viewable ads do not. As an industry, we need to apply that baseline to all campaigns, so we’ll be more equipped to make smarter decisions about our media and creative investments.”

Integral Ad Science CEO Scott Knoll agrees. “Viewability is more than just a means to an end, that end being achieving a business goal through advertising. It will also drive advertisers’ level of effectiveness. But only once the industry collectively understands and applies consistent standards across brand and performance campaigns, can we identify ways to increase conversions by optimising towards viewability and exposure levels.”

As we continue to invest in measurement solutions across our ad products, we are committed to using the MRC ad viewability threshold, wherever possible. We think that applying the same MRC viewability standards as the baseline for impression-based metrics across all display and video ads helps to make advertising measurement simpler and more effective, and we encourage others in the industry to join us.

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