On the 31st of March the Media Rating Council lifted their viewable impression advisory for display advertising.
What does this mean for us?
Well let us look at what the MRC does.
The MRC examines the technologies that the media industry employs to measure the impact of advertising on their respective audiences, and ensures that all those services that it accredits are valid, reliable and effective. Notable members of the MRC accreditation program include various Google, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo services. If the MRC advises anything then the big players in online marketing are likely to listen. What the MRC did advise was not to think you or anyone else knows how to measure viewable impressions.
Since November 2012 and up until the end of March 2014 the MRC have deemed viewable impression technology to be in its infancy and not sufficiently advanced enough to guarantee accurate measurements. This advisory was not intended to stymie research forays into the field, but instead to protect both the companies from offering flawed measurement services and the people willing to use them. The time since the advisory was put in place was enough to develop the technology and standards needed to provide rich, accurate data on viewability.
Why is impression viewability important to us?
The watchword of online marketing is measurability. Instant, real-time information gathering on what you’re advertising, when you’re advertising it and to whom you’re advertising it to. Today you can see how many people are on your website, what they are viewing, how they got there and what path they followed to get there. The more information we can gather on our customers, as well as who didn’t turn out to be valuable customers, the more we can do to fine tune our marketing efforts.
Right now Google’s Search Network is a finely tuned machine for advertisers. Everyone knows exactly what they are bidding on and where their ads are displaying. If you are maintaining a 2.0 ad position average then you can be confident that your ad is appearing within the top three spots on Google’s Search Engine Results Page.
Display advertising is severely lacking in a number of these metrics.
First and foremost you have little control over where exactly your appears on 3rd party websites. You have no guarantee that your ad is being displayed in a prominent position likely to get the user’s attention. Worse still, there is no guarantee that your ad is seen at all despite racking up impressions. This is the lack of security that impression viewability technology wishes to address. In theory if an ad has been scrolled passed or not even seen then that should not count as a viewed impression. In practice due to the lack of cohesive standardisation around website design and even impression view metrics it has been difficult to know whether viewed impressions really were viewed impressions.
That, the MRC believes, is now a thing of the past and Neal Mohan (VP of display advertising at Google) agrees. He writes a compelling article advocating why impression viewability is a sorely needed metric in online advertising. You can read his article here.
Google has long been working on their Active View service (which is only available in the United States as of writing). With this service you can purchase views on the Google Display Network Reserve, which are similar to clicks in nature. You don’t pay for your ad appearing, you pay for it being viewed (according to the measurements Google defines as being viewed.)
The hope is that because only a finite amount of online content can be reasonably be consumed by the web-surfing public guaranteed views are actually a valuable, limited resource. A webpage might serve an unrealistic amount of ads, but only a fraction of them, if any, can be classified as guaranteed views.
Advertisers wish for their marketing efforts to be measurable and have a demonstrable impact. Advertising platforms such as Google wish to keep their ad networks of high quality and desirable. With viewable impressions set to become an industry wide standard both may come to be realised.