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Is poor ad viewability killing your ad revenue?

Background

During 2015 and 2016, a subtle change in the way advertisers target digital campaigns may have made a big difference to your ad revenue. Especially if most of that ad revenue comes from Google AdSense or Google AdX.

We’ve been looking at the ad performance on the 40+ sites we manage and we’ve seen a direct correlation between average eCPM and ad viewability. Before we get into that – let’s discuss what ad viewability means.

An ad impression is deemed viewable if 50% of the ad’s pixels are in the user’s view for more than 1 second. Viewability rate is the percentage of total ad impressions that were deemed viewable. Advertisers know that ads with high viewability, generate a better return on investment for their campaigns. So – advertisers are targeting sites and ad units with high viewability. They are also willing to pay a lot more to win these impressions. On the flip side – advertisers are excluding sites and ad units with low viewability because they know they are adding very little to the performance of their advertising campaigns.

eCPM Viewability Graph

You can see among the top performing sites we manage – those that had an average viewability above 50% were attracting significantly higher eCPMs (almost double) than those publishers who had less than 50% viewability.  In fact, from the buyer’s perspective – that 50% threshold appears to be a key figure.  We spoke to some key buyers in the market to see what sites they would include when targeting high spending campaigns. Here’s what they said:

So, you can see – if you are seeing your average viewability is below 50%, the likelihood is that some of the best paying ad campaigns are not targeting your site. If these buyers go through DoubleClick Bid Manager – when they look at which sites to include in their campaigns they can see your account average viewability figure. They are not likely to target your site if your average viewability is below 50%. You may still see some revenue for these buyers from the AdSense/AdX open auction as they target specific users moving across your site, looking at your better performing ad units. But you won’t be getting as much spend from these buyers as sites with high average viewability.

What trends to look for to determine if low viewability is affecting your ad revenue?

Firstly – check your account average viewability for your AdX/AdSense account for the last month.  Go to Query Tool>New Query then select last month as the date range, month as the report dimension and select ‘Active View viewable’ in the report metrics. Hit Run Report. Are you above or below 50%? Now take a look at this compared to your eCPM over the last 12 months. Press the Edit button then change the date range to last 12 months. Run the report again. Has your monthly average eCPM dropped, increased or remained the same? Has your Active View viewability done the same thing? If eCPM has dropped and your viewability has remained below 50% or dropped even further – there’s a good chance low viewability is reducing your ad revenue.

Here’s an example of a publisher that is seeing their eCPMs dropping as viewability drops. Outside of the Christmas peak in eCPMs you can see that as viewability has dropped from 42% to 25% over a 14 month period, eCPM has dropped from around $0.90 to $0.60. There are of course other factors like blocking rules and pricing rules affecting the performance over this period. But we have seen a lot of accounts like this in the past 12 months where their eCPMs have been dropping with no changes to ad positions/sizes on the live site.

How can you turn things around?

So if you are among the half of publishers that have an average viewability below 50% what can you do about it? Well, there are a few little tricks you can use to increase your viewability and attract some of those high paying ad campaigns back to your site:

  1. Use larger ad sizes like 970×250 and 300×600
  2. Place your leader ad below the site navigation bar and use vertical ad units like the 300×600 and 160×600 in your sidebar. They stay in view longer than 300x250s. Place your below content ad unit above article comments or author bios.
  3. Make sidebar ad units sticky – so they follow the user as they scroll on longer pages.
  4. Lazy load below the fold, low viewability ad units to increase your account average viewability.
  5. Limit the number of ads per page – the bottom of the page ads might not be generating much revenue but they could be preventing your site being included in high paying ad campaigns because your site average viewability is below 50%

We’ll cover all of these optimisation techniques in more detail in the next blog post.

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