Is Viewability a win for Publishers?



So far, the consensus is that header bidding is a win for publishers, but that was a softball question. This one is I think more subject to debate: I’d like to hear everyone’s take on viewability. Is after the site redesigns, testing of all the partners, contract changes, etc. – is viewability now a win for publishers? If not, why not?


It’s a tough question.

  • Weeds out some fraudulent traffic to the extent that it can detect bots. Bot traffic creators should burn in the 7th circle of hell.
  • This leaves more money in the ecosystem for legitimate publishers.
  • Advertisers become more confident about display ads, so ad budgets go up.


  • Doesn’t count legitimate views sometimes, e.g. if the ad is in an iFrame; or technical failures of the verifying entity
  • Even more Javascript, esp. that tracks scrolling and triggers browser repaint, making the page slow
  • Another set of middlemen in the system, introducing more leakage and revenue dilution


Thanks @jasuja. I think your last pro is really the key. I don’t know if enough publishers realize that there is probably a lot of money that could move to digital if we make a more compelling case for it. We at least have to in part address that the ads are viewable and seen by humans. Without that, it’s hard to argue for more ad spend.

I know an area I’d like to see more discussion about is on engagement - moving beyond viewability to the next level of measurement. Stay tuned for that.

I also like your second point – viewability should reward publishers that are doing their best to insure viewability.

Your cons I think are on point.

For everyone else, I know there are other pros and cons. What is your take?


…there is probably a lot of money that could move to digital if we make a more compelling case for it.

But if we can’t, that money is going to stay in some other medium, that has better viewability metrics? Where is that?

My experience on the publisher side is that a focus on viewability leads directly to a decrease in ad spend. And that’s at high end, premium publishers with good site design. Viewability is a way for agencies to squeeze publishers. After the campaign, they send you a report from DoubleVerify or some such place that basically says they don’t have to pay for most of the campaign.

And who decides what’s viewable? The agency, of course. And how do they decide it? Based on whether a piece of javascript is called by the user’s browser. And is that piece of javascript the actual ad? No. Is it on the same server as the ad? No. Can the publisher control network latency that may prevent it from being called, even though the ad is shown? No.

From the agency point of view, this is great! Suddenly, their spend is much more efficient. For every impression they buy, they actually get three impressions.


So Michael, I’m going to put you in the “No, viewability is not a win for publishers” category. Is that correct? :slight_smile:

For everyone else, you should read Michael’s article on this very topic: It’s a great read.

To Michael’s point, viewability has definitely been used as a hammer and agencies have certainly positioned themselves as a victim. From that perspective, viewability has definitely not been a win for publishers. But from my position I feel like it has created new conversations within publishers I didn’t hear before. Suddenly editorial and operations are talking about user design and placement and how many ads should be on the page.

So perhaps the win (if there is one) is that it has forced some rethinking about how we do stuff. As you pointed out, publishers ultimately have to please their users. Maybe (maybe) you’d buy that we’re talking more about that now than ever?

Note: I’m not taking the position that it’s a win - just fanning the flames. :slight_smile:


Rob, you won’t be shocked to hear that I don’t really agree with that either.

“How many ads should be on the page” is not the same conversation as “how do we make ads more viewable”. In fact, those two conversations can have very different results. You can cram a whole lot of ads into that part of the page that you know is most likely to be viewed. It will be obnoxious, but you can do it.

So, viewability does promote conversations about how to please users, in that those conversations are in the direction of “OMG, how are we going to keep the users engaged with our content, while also sticking all these ads in their faces?”

In other words, pages designed for ad viewability and pages designed for good user experience, are, at best, in a Venn diagram with a tiny overlap. But I think it’s more accurate to say that those categories are almost antithetical to each other. Users don’t care about ad viewability at all. And advertisers don’t really care about the user being happy with the publisher’s site. They sort of care, in the sense that they want the user to get to the site for some reason, but figuring out that reason is not the advertiser’s problem. What they want is for the user to forget about the publisher’s site and click on the ad. That is not what the publisher wants. It can’t be, because if that happens too often, then the publisher has nothing to sell.


I got this question about viewability asked directly to me and wanted to collect any additional thoughts: “How do you integrate viewability into your overall performance benchmarks for success?”


Sorry for not answering your last question, @RobBeeler, but I just don’t know the answer to this one.

I’ve been struggling with viewability for the last few years. There seem to be two “solutions” to viewability, both of which I question:

  1. Place as many ads above the fold or inside the text as possible. You see this on many websites and it’s in my view the #1 or #2 reason for why people install ad blockers. A big no-no for me.

  2. Only load ad units when they come into view (or near to it). This one is clever and makes sense, but I struggle with the economics of it. Let’s say I have a BTF ad unit far down the page that makes me $0.30 CPM. Let’s say about 10% of my users ever see that ad unit. Now, if I were to load it only when it’s being seen, it would load only 10% of the time. Therefore, it would have to make 10x as much in terms of CPM as the other ad unit. I have not seen viewable ads getting 10x higher CPMs.

I haven’t found a solution to both of these issues. What are your thoughts on this, guys?


In theory, publishers were supposed to see an increase in CPM rates that would offset the loss (or at least make up some of the ground). In practice, that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Overall I feel conflicted about viewability. When I am buying ads, I like that it provides more transparency on what is actually happening. As a publisher though, it seems bad for revenue. On the other hand, you could argue that publishers have been unfairly profiting from overhyped ad reach claims for… well, since ad selling began probably. If we applied the same ad viewability standard to ads in newspapers, magazines and on billboards advertiser would be shocked by the difference in claimed reach and actual reach of their campaigns. It is a good thing for the industry to have more accurate data, but it is challenging for publishers to figure out how to adapt. I don’t like how it is impacting user experience as publishers try to improve viewability by cramming ads in the middle of content. It seems like, we need to creatively pursue options for monetizing content in more ways than just selling ad impressions.


Thanks for re-starting the conversation, Peter!

I think you make some good points - publishers are caught between wanting to have a good user experience for their readers (ie. not cramming all of the ads above the fold), accountability to advertisers, and still being able to make a profit off of ads on their site.

I’d be curious to hear about personal experiences from publishers. Have you seen a decrease in revenue from viewability? Or perhaps even an increase as advertisers can buy with more confidence?

Did you miss: DMEXCO tips, partner evaluations, SEO checklist, shift to video and viewability changes?

On the question of revenue and viewability. My only data source is Adsense reporting where Google reports the % of viewability of an ad unit. For some time, I wasn’t seeing a good relationship between higher viewability and higher RPM. So I had figured it was not a benefit. But I just checked my last 30 day results and it does seem like there is a correlation. Taking a few given higher viewable ads and comparing most recent 30 day RPM and Viewability vs a year ago, seems like there is a slight improvement in RPM for a given level of viewability.


Interesting! Had you seen any negative relationship between viewability and RPM? Or had it stayed somewhat constant until the recent increase? I’m wondering if there could continue to be long term benefits here. As advertisers slowly gain confidence working with publishers ad budgets will continue to increase.


Haven’t seen any negative relationship between viewability and RPM. Either
no relationship or a slight positive.

I miss the “old days” when you could have 3 or 4 well-placed ads on a page
and earn a decent page revenue. Now got to have more than that just to get
half the page revenue.