What You Need to Know About New Viewability Guidelines

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Last week the Media Ratings Council released new Viewability Guidelines, which determine what counts as a digital advertisement actually being seen by a human viewer.

fichterWe reached out to several digital experts including Dan Fichter (pictured left), vice president of engineering at Moat, to offer their take on what b2b publishers really need to note about updates.

“The latest MRC and IAB updates speak to measurability, premium format viewability and polling intervals, which are top of mind topics for publishers we work with,” says Fichter. “I would also note that mobile viewability accreditation is coming soon, and if you’re not optimizing for mobile viewability, now is the time to do it.”

Fichter says that Moat finds publishers benefit from having real-time, always-on, site-wide viewability analytics broken out by site section, ad format, and ad position and including diagnostic metrics so that they can understand which ad slots are highly viewable, what the exact causes of non-viewable impressions are on less viewable ad slots and how to remedy low viewability there.

“ATF placement is of course not always viewable (and can have viewable rates below 50% on some sites), and BTD placements can have stellar viewability depending on how they are positioned and executed,” according to Fichter. “Adhesives work but some adhesive executions work better than others.”

Where polling intervals are concerned, it’s also critical that the measurement technology be efficient and entirely unobtrusive to users if you’re going to run viewability code on every ad slot of every page on your site, Fichter adds.

“Brand advertising (not direct response) is the top focus of premium publishers today, and we think there is a broad shift underway toward digital as the future of brand advertising success,” says Fichter. “Through that lens, whether digital ads can be seen by real humans is just the very beginning of the question publishers are trying to answer for their brand and agency clients. The larger question is: how can you measure attention and advertising effectiveness in digital and how can publishers optimize toward higher brand lift and ROI for advertisers through real-time signals?”

Below are some key technical takeaways for publishers on the MRC viewability guidelines update. (Remember: For a typical display ad to be counted as a viewable impression, 50% of the pixels of the ad need to be in view for at least 1 second. You have to filter out non-human activity and count on the client-side.)

Highlights Desktop Display:

- Under "User Interaction Considerations" you can count an impression as viewable if there was a strong user interaction with the ad, such as a click. A hover wouldn't meet the criteria but a legitimate click on an ad that wasn't necessarily 50% in view can count towards your viewable impressions.
- You can count large display ads (larger than 970x250px or IAB Rising Stars: www.iab.net/risingstars) as viewable when 30% are in the viewable space.  But for expanding ads, the viewability measurement has to be based on the smaller initial format of the ad.
- You can't count any ads on pre-fetched pages as viewable impressions until they appear in the viewable area of the browser. Many publishers are now waiting to call the ad until it comes into view.
- If you were thinking about using the Page Visibility API or Flash-based throttle indicator to measure viewability on your website, the IAB is saying that's not good enough to accurately measure viewability and should be for supplemental use only.
- You can only count a viewable impression on an ad once. For example if you count a viewable impression, scroll down, and then scroll back up, you can't count the second pass a second viewable impression.

Highlights Desktop Video:

Remember: For a video ad to count as a viewable impression, 2 continuous seconds of the video needs to be played with 50% of the pixels of the video in view.
- Again here "strong user interaction" can be considered a proxy for viewability such as clicking on the ad. Clicking just to play the ad doesn't count.
- Right now they can't measure whether audio is muted or not in all situations, so unmuted audio detection is not currently a requirement. But it is strongly encouraged that publishers be certain that the audio is on to count the impression.
- You can assume that if a video was clicked the majority of it was in view.
- On auto-play video you can't assume that the video is viewable on execution.

IAB recommends that viewable ad impressions be counted in three mutually exclusive buckets:
- Viewable Impressions
- Non-Viewable Served Impressions
- Impressions with Viewable Status Undetermined


Matt Matt Kinsman is vice president of content + programming at Connectiv, the only association focused on the integrated b-to-b model—including publications, events, digital media, marketing services and business information. Prior to joining Connectiv's predecessor American Business Media in 2011, Kinsman was executive editor of Folio:, the leading information provider for the magazine industry.