Why Paid Media Viewability Doesn’t Matter (If Your KPI Is Post-Click Engagement)

Content Engagement Native Advertising

Is your inventory viewable? What percent viewability can you guarantee?

If you’ve ever been asked these questions, or asked them yourself, congratulations: you’re a step ahead of the majority of marketers and media buyers thinking only about the face value of the cost of their advertising buys. Instead of assuming a low CPM is a bargain, you’re thinking about the true value of what you’re buying: the quality of your ad placements and the human eyes (or lack thereof) that are seeing them.

After all, if you place an ad on the internet and it sits at the bottom of a webpage as long as the Statue of Liberty is tall, did you even advertise?

The Rise in Demand for Viewability

For nearly a decade, it’s been common practice when buying display advertising to use viewability as a quality standard of the buy. In 2014, Group M rolled out initial viewability standards stating it would only pay for ads that are 100% viewable. Just last year, they expanded those guidelines to include a one-second duration of viewability, since users in mobile and social newsfeed environments often scroll too quickly to actually see an ad, despite it technically being served and registering for an impression. At that time, some of the biggest brands in the world (including Unilever, Campbell Soup Company, Church & Dwight, Shell, Subway and Volvo Cars) went on record as supporting the growing demand for better viewability and measurement in digital advertising.

Not long after the Group M announcement, viewability concerns started to be addressed around the world. The largest media agency in Austria, MediaCom, convinced the majority of publishers there to sell their inventory based on an independent viewability definition agreed on by a dozen leading advertisers. The results were positive, and many others have followed suit since then.

Looking for input from someone on the frontlines, I recently spoke with Justin Farber, Head of Optimization at inPowered, on the topic of viewability, and he agreed things are moving in the right direction. “I think that’s a sign of a healthy advertising market – when a bunch of publishers are reacting to advertiser requests, knowing that increasing their ad calls to unviewable impressions is not going to increase their bottom line.”

He continued, “If you’re buying ad impressions, regardless of what type of unit, you want them to be viewable. Advertisers are beginning to expect transparency from all of their supply sources. Most of the leading DSPs have responded to this demand and now offer insight into viewability metrics.”

Optimizing For The Right Metric

Despite a vCPM model’s best efforts to make sure an ad is seen (which is unquestionably better than the longstanding CPM model), there’s still big potential for waste. It’s still display advertising, and users still have banner blindness. When you’re told your ad was “seen” there’s still no guarantee it was actually seen and observed by a human eye.

So if impressions aren’t enough, then clicks must be, right?


Is a click all you really want? In most instances, and especially in content marketing scenarios, you want the user to do more than just click through. You want them to convert on some metricbe it form completions, content consumption, or some other type of activity beyond landing on your website. Native advertisers should keep this end goal in mind when analyzing and optimizing their media buys. While vCPM is an improvement, there’s an obvious need for a cost-metric that considers post-click performance.

inPowered solved for this need by introducing the industry to it’s Engagement & Cost Per Engagement (CPE) metrics. Engagements are defined as unique post-click experiences lasting a minimum of 15-seconds. inPowered’s clients use these metrics to optimize their native advertising buys towards the audiences most-likely to cost-effectively engage.

Farber explains, “The issue of viewability is negated by optimizing for post-click engagement. Fifteen seconds of engagement is a fairly high value conversion for a native advertising campaign. A lot of advertisers simply don’t have a conversion metric that falls between a click and their desired end result, so they’re optimizing the next best thing (page views or clicks). Outside of inPowered, there just isn’t a universal post-click engagement metric that advertisers can optimize toward… and this is an exciting problem to help solve.”

Why vCPM Doesn’t Matter

It’s hard to reverse learned behavior that’s been drilled into you for a long time, but if you can overcome the industry habit of obsessing about impressions and CTRs, the idea of an engagement-based advertising model starts to make a lot of sense.

Farber puts it more bluntly: “In a sense, all paid impressions from inPowered are 100% viewable. We don’t bill for impressions – that’s not how we market ourselves as a company – by selling on an engagement-based model, viewability or impressions are implied and guaranteed.”

As with so many other marketing tactics, it always comes back to your campaign goals. If those goals include engagement (specifically, engagement with high quality content you’ve invested a lot of time and money in) then you should be optimizing toward exactly that instead of worrying about whether or not the ad you paid for can even be seen.

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