The IAB’s Nuts-And-Bolts Advice On Handling Viewability

IABviewabilityprimerBeyond the headlines, the drama and all the talk, there’s the daily reality of actually putting viewability into practice.

“The questions around how to transact around viewability have been such a big issue for both publishers and advertisers that I think there has been a session in just about every major conference over the past year,” said James Deaker, VP of revenue management and policy at Yahoo.

On Tuesday, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) put out a primer outlining tips and best practices to help publishers get their desktop viewability houses in order.

Beyond the obvious need for creating engaging editorial content and tackling site redesigns – The Washington Post and Tribune Media have both taken the bull by the horn in that regard with good results – the IAB suggests publishers take a sober look at their ad tech strategies. That includes how they work with advertisers, agencies and third-party vendors.

In addition to crafting terms and conditions and agreeing on how to handle makegoods, trading on viewable impressions usually means accommodating the advertiser’s choice of third-party measurement vendors.

And that can have a direct impact on user experience.

It’s an inherent irony of ad verification that, combined with slow-loading creative and slow-loading sites, viewability tags can cause latency, just like any other tracking pixel.

Not only are there “way too many measurement tags affixed to ads,” but they’re often redundant, said Sherrill Mane, SVP of research, analytics and measurement at the IAB.

“Asking for vendor A to verify variable X and for vendor B to also verify variable X and then for vendor C to check on Y and Z – the duplicative nature of some of the tagging is one of the things contributing to the latency problem,” Mane said. “It’s not the sole culprit, but it’s time for the marketplace to start thinking: Do you really need every vendor out there?”

The recent move from Flash to HTML5 creative can also create loading hiccups that mess with measurement, said Mike McLeod, senior manager of advertising products and technology at PGA Tour Digital.

McLeod has seen examples of verification pixels timing out because the creative itself didn’t load fast enough.

“Putting a growing number of measurement and verification technologies along with complex HTML5 ads that are not yet quite controlled for can absolutely produce latency that affects viewability,” McLeod said.

It’s part of why publishers need to start benchmarking their sites, if they’re not already. They should map and note the viewability score for each ad placement, and run comparison tests with the third-party measurement guys against their baseline to identify gaps before beginning campaigns.

“It’s a starting point to help you find a source of truth,” McLeod said.

If the variance is greater than 10%, the IAB advises publishers take a step back and create a remediation plan upfront as a precondition for moving forward.

The Media Rating Council (MRC) has also taken steps to reduce discrepancies between vendors, but it’s still an issue that publishers are dealing with in the trenches.

“Discrepancies are often an issue when a nascent technology is being used and different companies have varying interpretations of the standards,” said Deaker, noting that Yahoo saw discrepancies between different vendors that were “much greater than the 10% rule of thumb” in 2015, although there were “big improvements” over the course of the year.

There’s not really a magical formula to follow to get it right. Rather, it’s about creating a regimen of information sharing, communication and experimentation and using common sense. That includes only bringing on one vendor at a time, working solely with MRC-accredited vendors, testing, benchmarking, monitoring the vendor marketplace and having frank discussions with verification partners.

“The vendors that are worthy are the ones that tell their clients what they do and how they do it,” Mane said. “Publishers shouldn’t work with the ones that are not transparent to their own customers, but publishers also need to know what to ask.”

And that comes with experience, McLeod said. It’s not perfect, but the market is maturing.

“First, we had to define exactly what viewability is, not just on a theoretical level,” McLeod said. “Today hundreds of thousands of publishers know their viewability score and have real dirty-hands experience with the vendors. The remaining challenge will be for publishers to really start working out discrepancies with their advertising partners.”

Of course, none of this has anything to do with user interaction or fulfilling KPIs. The IAB is actually quite emphatic on that point, noting in its guide that “viewability is not about ad effectiveness nor ad engagement. It is simply the delivery of ads that render on the screen. In other words, the opportunity to be seen.”

But for its part, the MRC has an ambitious road map for 2016 and beyond. A mobile viewability standard will likely be circulated for public comment in the next week weeks, after which the MRC plans to tackle cross-platform and audience-based metrics, as well as metrics for ad engagement and effectiveness.

“It’s not an easy path, but the idea at the end is to try and create apples-to-apples measurement across media genres,” said MRC CEO and executive director George Ivie, speaking in January at an IAB-hosted town hall meeting on the state of digital measurement. “That will increase the value of advertising across the board."


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