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In-App Ad Viewability: The Current State and Publisher Best Practices

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Posted by Sebastian Bär on September 6, 2017
In-App Ad Viewability

In-app ad viewability is important because advertising can only be effective when it is seen by real people. As mobile ad spending continues to increase, higher measurement standards are vital for securing a healthy, thriving mobile ecosystem.

The current debate revolves around what should constitute an impression. Not all ad impressions are created equal — just because an ad server has delivered an ad to an app or mobile website does not necessarily mean that the user has indeed had a reasonable opportunity to see it. Therein lies the difference between an ad impression that is viewable and one that is only served.

Both advertisers and publishers have a crucial role in ensuring mobile ad viewability. Advertisers can help by supporting the development of clear mobile advertising viewability standards and holding all of their partners accountable to them. To avoid losing out on valuable advertising dollars, publishers and developers need to be proactive in understanding advertisers’ needs and concerns. To help publishers, we have compiled some mobile ad viewability best practices.

Defining Ad Viewability

Ad viewability is a metric for ensuring that an ad has the opportunity to be seen. For an ad to be considered viewable, the ad content must be within the viewable region of the browser or app for a minimum period of time.

To provide an industry standard for measuring viewable mobile ad impressions, the Media Rating Council (MRC) published the “Mobile Viewable Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines” in June 2016. According to the guidelines, a mobile display ad impression can only be considered viewable if it fulfills the following requirements:

  • Pixel requirement: At least 50% of the advertisement's pixels (density-independent) must be on an in-focus browser or a fully downloaded, opened and initialized application in the viewable space of the device.
  • Time requirement: The duration in which the pixel requirement is met must be at least one continuous second, post ad render. This time requirement applies equally to news feed and non-news feed environments.Pixel and time requirement for mobile ad viewability

For mobile video ad impressions, there is an even more stringent requirement: two continuous seconds of the video advertisement must be played, with the same pixel requirement as viewable mobile display ads. Even though there are slightly different guidelines and definitions, viewability for desktop and mobile share the same objective — to ensure that an ad is viewable to the user’s eye for a specified timespan.

Understanding Why Ad Viewability Matters

Advertisers are encouraging the rapid adoption of a viewable impression standard to ensure the effectiveness of their mobile advertising campaigns. To be clear, ad viewability — even at its best — only ensures that an ad has the opportunity to be seen. Beyond that, the campaign’s creative content and proper targeting are the key drivers of a campaign’s effectiveness and level of user engagement.

Ad viewability plays a major role for publishers as well, as it is an important criterion for judging the performance of ad placements. A low ad viewability rating should cause the publisher to reassess and adapt ad positions, as well as factors such as refresh rates, server speed, etc.

A unified ad viewability measurement standard would, therefore, benefit all stakeholders in the mobile advertising ecosystem; however, achieving a unified standard is a complex task, with many challenges for both advertisers and publishers.

Measuring mobile ad viewability is different than desktop

Due to differing technology, the methods used by vendors to verify impressions on desktop do not necessarily work on mobile. User behavior on these two mediums also varies greatly — for example, smaller screen size means that users scroll much more on mobile than desktop, which has an impact on the viewability of the embedded ads.

Slow mobile connections can cause ad latency

Mobile connections are often slower than desktop connections, which means the user may move on before an ad can load completely, making the ad non-viewable. This is especially problematic when ads are not optimized for mobile performance.

Publishers may sacrifice user experience to achieve high viewability

As the industry establishes viewability standards, publishers are under pressure to achieve high viewability rates. It is, therefore, more important than ever for publishers to consider user experience and viewability when choosing ad placements, so as not to overload the user with advertising while still ensuring viewability.

Causes of Low Mobile Ad Viewability

Low Mobile Ad Viewability Causes

To measure and improve viewability, publishers and advertisers are increasingly using independent verification companies like Moat and Integral Ad Science. For in-app advertising, publishers often need to integrate multiple viewability vendor SDKs to match advertiser expectations. Loading multiple SDKs into one app can, however, heavily impact performance. Therefore, the MRC recommends the development of an open-source SDK:

“The presence of multiple SDKs within the same application may impact performance, user experience and data transmission. For this reason, there may be value in the development of an open-source standard SDK by the industry that can be used by all parties. We encourage such development and would support an open and single source standard.”

~ MRC Mobile Viewable Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines, June 28, 2016

In early 2017, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) took over an initiative for developing an open-source code that publishers can use to integrate multiple viewability vendors via one SDK. The “Open Measurement Working Group” (OMWG), which is supported by Smaato and many other major companies in the mobile advertising industry, aims to close the existing technology gap by developing a unified standard for measuring viewability. This standard can then be used by everyone to ensure a high-quality, transparent advertising ecosystem.

Smaato continues to be an industry leader on the important topic of mobile advertising viewability and is excited to be part of this important, ambitious open-source initiative. With the goal of eliminating ambiguity caused by multiple viewability SDKs, the related source code is open for all involved parties and enables constructive feedback and contribution across the ecosystem. The OMWG is governed by the IAB Tech Lab, which assures consistency and reliability. By forming this initiative, the industry is tackling the key challenges posed by the viewability standard.

The shifting importance of served impressions versus viewed impressions is ongoing. Currently, viewability is merely the opportunity to see an ad; however, as the topic of viewability and its measurement standards continue to evolve, viewability metrics will incorporate additional ways to analyze ad effectiveness. Publishers must stay on top of these developments to maximize ad viewability, and the industry must uphold a shared viewability measurement standard. Together, we can create a more transparent mobile advertising ecosystem that benefits everyone.

Taking the Next Step

With the biggest advertising season of the year coming soon, we are excited to announce a new integration that will help publishers generate even more revenue. Later this year, we will launch our Moat-integrated SDK. Moat is the current market leader in mobile advertising viewability measurement. By integrating our upcoming Moat-integrated SDK, publishers’ will make their inventory more attractive to the world's top advertisers.

As a global mobile advertising leader, Smaato is proud to support the ad viewability initiative. Please visit the Market Quality section of our website for further information about Smaato’s commitment to a clean and transparent mobile marketplace and keep an eye on this blog over the coming weeks for news of our new Moat-integrated SDK.

Best Mobile Ad Viewability Practices for Publishers

For publishers and app developers, maximizing the total number of viewable ad impressions is key for improving ad performance, increasing advertiser satisfaction and optimizing the bottom line. Here are some tips for Smaato publishers to achieve a high viewability measurement:

Best In-App Mobile Ad Viewability Practices

In-App Advertising Playbook Download

Written by Sebastian Bär

Manager, Traffic Quality

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