Why we need a new metric for mobile ad viewability

The issues with ad viewability are well-documented. Research regularly pops up which more often than not unearths cases of fraud, bots and misleading reporting, with the latest results putting display viewability rates at just under 50%.

However, many of these studies combine desktop and mobile ad viewability under one umbrella, meaning that opportunities are being missed by brands and publishers to take advantage of the different behaviours.

An infographic released recently from Sovrn sets out the difference between dwell time on mobiles and desktops, which in turn affects how we should measure how ads are viewed between the two.

The study involved 3 billion individual user sessions and 130 million page views over 400+ websites and found that dwell time – the total time spent on a page from start to finish – was just 70 seconds for mobile, compared to 419 seconds for desktop.

But that’s not the whole story. The engagement dwell time – the time that a page is open and a user is active on it – was actually six seconds longer on mobile phones. This is probably due to users opening multiple tabs on browsers without actively being on pages; a habit which doesn’t translate through to mobile usage.

So what does this mean for mobile advertisements?

The numerous different ad formats available and a lack of measurement standards has so far been a huge stumbling block for mobile advertising, and means that not just viewability, but definitions of it still have to be figured out by the industry.

Many digital advertisers and publishers currently rely on Media Rating Council (MRC) standards as a benchmark, which says that 50% of the advert must be in view for two seconds. Stephen Upstone, writing for AdWeek points out that this ruling applies to desktop, mobile and tablet, “but these channels are inherently different and user behaviour reflects this. Accordingly, viewability standards should be different across these channels.”

Some marketers use different measurement tags on mobile, developed by the IAB as a form of standardisation. But both VAST and VPAID are limited in their ability to track viewability.

This way of measuring viewability is disputed by tech giant IBM. Its new guidelines state that 100% of display ads must be in view for one second, and 100% of a video must be in view for half of its duration (with sound) in order for IBM to be charged for an impression. But without a consistent, unified approach across the industry which takes into account the differences in mobile behaviour, viewability metrics are set for another rocky few years.

The wider advertising mobile landscape

Google is a well-known example of a company driving higher advertising standards on mobile, although not without surrounding controversy. Their approach so far has been somewhat heavy-handed in tackling ad fraud, and last year they removed 2 million pages on websites that violated Google’s policies in a bid to better protect advertisers. They see fast-loading pages on mobile as a key part of the web’s future, and are determined to bring ads up to speed, literally.

Their well-known AMP project, which has helped Google overtake Facebook as a referrer to publishers’ pages, launched a new feature this month called Render on Idle, which is designed to increase ad impressions per page by speeding up ad load when a user isn’t taking any action in a browser. So far, tests have resulted in a 13% increase in impressions per page.

Display advertising continues to be a steady source of revenue for publishers, despite global challenges. According to a report released last week from the AOP and Deloitte, publishers experienced a 5.6% growth in total digital revenue in 2017 compared to 2016, and a massive 27% annual revenue increase from display advertising.

Further reading:

Display advertising continues to be largest driver of digital publisher revenue in the UK – FIPP

Brands With Their Own Viewability Standards Are Causing Headaches for the Ad-Tech Industry – AdWeek

Over $60bn was spent on programmatic ads in 2017 but big concerns remain – MobileMarketing

As Mobile Becomes Increasingly Crucial to Advertising, Brands Fail to Take Full Advantage – AdWeek

The State of Engagement – Sovrn