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Consumers are spending more and more of their time online than ever before, which has resulted in a steady increase in online advertising spend over the past few years. The reason for this investment is mainly due to digital marketing and advertising being very well targeted and measurable - but recently, the question of whether or not online ads are actually being seen by target audiences has risen to the surface, according to Martin Brown, UK managing director for DataXu. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Part of the driver behind this recent challenge is that marketers are managing multiple vendors from media buyers to publishing agencies and technology providers. Often, each have their own ways of measuring engagement meaning that visibility into who is really seeing online ads and evaluating the effectiveness of the current vendor mix is becoming very difficult.

To illustrate the scale of the problem, recent research by comScore indicates that 54% of advertising delivered goes unseen. Essentially, what this means is that marketers are wasting a huge amount of their media budget on ads that did not have the opportunity to be seen.

But, what exactly is viewability? Well, according to the recently published IAB standards, viewability measures whether an ad was served where the user had the opportunity to view and is defined as 50% of the ad unit being in the user's viewable screen for at least one second.

The challenge
Many vendors claim engagement even when ads are buried low down on web pages or run in tiny, easily ignored video players on those pages because they are gaming for last view attribution. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between which vendor is, in reality, driving engagement.

Furthermore, marketers are rightly feeling there is a lack of transparency in vendor reports. In fact, almost half of advertisers and marketers surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers (42%) recently said transparency worries had increased over the past year. Without true transparency marketers feel like they cannot accurately evaluate high click through rates, assess ad reach or evaluate their vendor mix.

Why use a viewability standard?
Susan Bidel, senior analyst, Forrester, has declared that 2014 will be the year viewability becomes the standard for brand-focused display advertising. Bidel also believes, the standards for viewability are pretty much agreed upon by the marketing industry and vendor mix. Notionally, this should make it easier for businesses and vendors to move from an impressions served to an impressions viewed currency.

With the introduction of new technologies that help measure cross-screen viewability metrics, accidental ad expansion tracking, and performance benchmarking, viewability as a measurement method has become even more popular.

Popular measurement methods
So, where to start? Moving from an impression served to an impressions viewable currency is a big step that impacts media planning, vendor selection and attribution modelling. More work is still to be done in re-evaluating how businesses, and vendors, measure and execute marketing programmes to accommodate a viewability metric.

When considering viewability as part of a digital marketing campaign, marketers first need to understand how it is measured.

The first measurement process to become familiar with is the geometric method. This measures viewability using the position of the ad unit relative to the browser window and is the most widely used method in the market. Using coordinates available from browsers this method projects the viewability of the remaining impressions. It takes into consideration where a banner ad is placed on the web page. For example, if an ad is placed at the top but a viewer has scrolled down to the bottom - the ad will not be in-view and therefore does not engage.

Additionally marketers can also use the vCPM (viewable CPM) method to measure the value of vendors' engagement. This takes the CPM and divides it by the vendor viewability rate, calculated using the geometric method. For example, if one vendor is costed at £5.50 per CPM and is in view 65% of the time, their vCPM is equal to £8.46.

With the acquisition of Spider.io by Google, the geometric method is the method used by all major players. vCPM is not a method for measurement of whether an ad is viewable, but rather a way to measure the relative effectiveness of a campaign using a viewable currency. We believe this is superior to looking just at viewable rate. This would bias you toward premium sites which have a moderately higher in-view rate. But if the cost is more than moderately higher, you can actually end up buying FEWER viewable impressions.

Planning is the key
For marketers who are new to viewability, a great place to start using viewability as a standard measurement is to factor it into any upcoming media plan and then discuss the results with the measurement provider and media buying partners. Marketers will also need to ensure that their programmatic marketing software provider can integrate or partner with the best in the market for providing them with the highest levels of impression quality for each media buy.

"We are at the cusp of a huge shift in online advertising as advertisers strive to pay only for adverts that are seen. Factoring this standard into campaigns can only benefit marketing campaign results in the long-term as the industry will be trading on viewable impressions," concluded Brown. "This type of transparency will level the playing field and encourage better, more results-driven campaigns because marketers will know their adverts have actually been seen by their desired audiences."