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4 ways to make sure your digital media buys are viewable

4 ways to make sure your digital media buys are viewable Richard Murphy

Digital advertising will soon surpass television as the No. 1 advertising category. Marketers know digital will be a major channel in their media plans, but they also know that they need to be discerning in where they spend their money.

Given that digital ad fraud costs the industry $18.5 billion each year, marketers are right to be cautious. They want to ensure that ads are seen by real customers and that their impressions paint an accurate picture of their audiences. That's why demand for third-party verification platforms has increased.

Until recently, publishers and marketers focused on served impressions. But these are ripe for manipulation because ads might be delivered to nonhuman traffic, rendering them useless to advertisers. If marketers don't know that those impressions are linked to bots, they get a skewed view of their campaigns' effectiveness.

Viewed impressions are more reliable. Goodway Group found that users shown ads measured as viewable have an 8-9 percent higher conversion rate than those served ads not deemed viewable. Viewability criteria includes controls on ad delivery and inventory quality, assuring advertisers that their content reaches potential customers.

Viewability is better for everyone

The Association of National Advertisers surveyed 154 marketers and found that 97 percent of them believe digital media inventories should be measured by third parties. The survey also showed that 90 percent of respondents weren't confident that their digital media measured up to industry viewability standards. Viewable impressions can restore marketers' confidence in their ad-buying partners because they provide hard numbers and results.

Despite initial resistance to third-party verification, publishers are coming around. Facebook announced last year that it would allow Moat to verify video ads on its own feeds, as well as on Instagram. Google quickly followed suit by approving third-party verification on YouTube ads. Many service providers are currently investing in verification technology, creating more options for publishers wanting to provide transparent data on their ad impressions.

In March 2016, the Interactive Advertising Bureau partnered with some of the country's biggest brands to elevate the viewability conversation. Google, Disney, NBCUniversal, Yahoo, and Turner Broadcasting worked on the IAB's Primer for Publishers on Improving Ad Viewability. The document included recommendations for benchmarking viewability rates and ad latency, as well as strategies for understanding third-party assessments. It also provided suggestions on how to educate advertisers on different metrics.

The primer, which provided a path forward for advertisers and publishers, was well-received by the industry. The engagement of so many high-level brands in the process exemplifies the growing importance of viewability verification.

Building a better internet

There are a number of innovations on the horizon that will improve the viewability space. Trustworthy Accountability Group is taking real steps to improve the ecosystem right now. TAG's initiatives on anti-piracy and inventory quality have earned the support of both buyers and sellers, and adoption is up on both sides.

Viewability tracking still presents some challenges to developers and publishers as they integrate the new platforms into their systems. But the emphasis on viewability is a major step forward from served impressions. Marketers can hasten the shift toward viewability by implementing the following strategies in their partnerships:

1. Do your homework
The online ecosystem looks complicated -- I think some agencies and vendors like to perpetuate this impression -- but start with the basics, and build from there. Don't just abdicate the digital process to your agency. Learn who is serving your online ads. Know your buying mix: how much of your budget is direct placement into premium publishers, how much is going into private marketplaces, and how much, if any, is going into the open exchange in a real-time bidding environment.

Learn the basic workflow for each path. Determine whether you're using a demand-side platform to access inventory. If so, what tools exist to ensure your ads are being viewed in a brand-safe environment? If you want to expand beyond your current vendor sites, there are a few companies that offer online tutorials that you can access for free. Familiarize yourself with the different options, and select publishers and platforms that align with your goals.

2. Know your partners (and your partners' partners)
There are many links in the ad-buying chain, and you're only as safe as the weakest one. Research the companies affiliated with your digital ad process to ensure they're reputable organizations. When possible, work with vendors certified through IAB, TAG, and the Media Rating Council. Companies that voluntarily submit to certification programs are usually best-in-class providers.

3. Inquire about traffic sourcing
A common source of fraudulent impressions is purchased or incentivized traffic. Ask publishers how much of their traffic derives from these tactics. If the percentage is more than 5 percent, make sure they have effective procedures and tools for identifying and filtering invalid or nonhuman traffic.

If you're buying in the open exchange, you won't know this answer. Make sure your demand-side platform has effective controls because you have no relationship with the publisher.

4. Vet invalid traffic procedures
Fraud detection and filtration have become quite sophisticated. Find out what your partners are doing to identify and filter invalid traffic -- most companies use a combination of internal and external tools to accomplish this task. Ask which third-party solutions are being used. If they're not using any third-party solutions that specialize in fraud detection and filtration, this should serve as a red flag. Due to the rapid pace of change on this front and the investment needed to keep current with fraudsters, very few platforms can do it on their own.

Viewable impressions isn't a perfect metric, but it's the best we have to date. This figure also represents an important step in advertising's evolution. Between the work IAB and TAG are doing and the demand for transparency among marketers, we are building a better internet. The more marketers insist on viewability, the higher standards will rise across the industry -- and they'll only grow stronger from there.

Richard Murphy is a senior vice president at BPA Worldwide, a not-for-profit assurance services provider that performs third-party media audits to verify audience data used in the buying and selling of advertising. Richard is a certified public...

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