Display ad viewability within the UK crept up to 54% in the first quarter of this year; at just over a half, it’s the highest average rate witnessed in over 18 months.

But despite the dubiously good news, the UK’s display advertising industry still falls paces behind a number of its European neighbours when it comes to getting ads in front of eyeballs.

Working to improve viewability rates stands tall as a key focus point for display marketers, and it’s a topic that sparks no shortfall of discussion. A survey by PerformanceIN, of approximately 100 site visitors, set out to estimate where in the supply chain the industry prioritises improvement. The results can be seen in the chart below:

Ramping up relevance

As seen above, the majority of respondents (40%) felt that increased viewability was largely reliant on brands providing more relevant advertising to users.

Marketers are repeatedly told to ‘personalise, personalise, personalise’, but the emphasis here is that display advertising should be conducted with the motivation of building rapport among a specific set of users. That’s despite ‘relationship building’ perhaps not being the first consideration when laying out objectives in display.

More responsive targeting should arguably be the norm for now; given the opportunity to provide additional comments, our respondents complained that a day’s internet browsing can be tarnished with the retargeting efforts resulting from visiting a single site. For the online consumer, the current array of display advertising can lack intelligence.

But this comes down to a case-by-case basis, where a certain batch of bad examples can have a damaging effect on the people ‘doing’ display well. Sociomantic’s managing director, Adam Baker, argues that programmatic display advertising is “only as good” as the data it is fuelled by.

“With the right data strategies, advertisers are able to maintain a sustainable marketing budget by only buying the impressions that are most likely to trigger conversion, making viewability a non-issue.”

The sentiment that advertisers ‘get what they pay for’ with viewability rates is echoed by Lauren Struck, display director at iProspect, who argues that some of the most effective ways to boost viewability narrow down to the quality of sites and ad placements you are buying.

“The more premium the content environment is, the more likely the user will be to engage with the content for a significant length of time.”

Stripping-out ads

Making ads more lightweight and faster-loading was the next most highly-rated area for improving viewability rates, with 20% of respondents believing latency to be the pivotal factor in the proportion of advertisements that get seen.

“Ads that are designed with load time, file weight and other key elements top-of-mind will break through the clutter across digital screens,” says Scott Cunningham, general manager, IAB Tech Lab. This is the same group behind the L.E.A.N. ads initiative (light, encrypted, ad choice-supported, non-invasive), launched last October in the battle against ad blockers.

A step in the right direction could involve swapping out elements like high-resolution images or Flash dynamics for a more basic, flat design in HTML5 to vastly improve the loading speed within the browser.  

Victoria Swainson, head of programmatic at 1XL, comments that ‘heavy ads’ and ad latency are “certainly” factors in viewability, and noted that ‘lazy loading’, which defers the loading of an object until the point it’s needed, is one way to improve viewability rates well as improving site efficiency.

However, she adds: “With viewability at just over 50% in the UK it is not a panacea until it’s clear that advertisers are prepared to pay more for viewable ads.”

Speaking on behalf of video – a continually enlarging portion of display advertising – is AppNexus’ VP strategic development EMEA, Nigel Gilbert, who noted that buffering delay for video playback results in a 6% increase in abandonment rate, adding that there’s “no reason” online video shouldn’t be as fast as seamless, fast, and fluid as television.

Fit for mobile

With eMarketer suggesting that mobile could account for more than 50% of all digital ad spend globally by 2016, it’s clearly an important area to touch on in the viewability debate and one cited as a chief concern among 10.5% of our respondents.

To this point, where the ad is positioned on the page and in relation to the content will ensure that the viewer does indeed see the ad, regardless of the device, says Struck. This gives backing to the idea that display advertisers don’t have to think of ‘mobile’ and ‘desktop’ as separate entities.

On the other hand, the way consumers interact with mobile is vastly different to how they do things on desktop (scrolling quicker, for example), and so much that the MRC this year has brought into question whether the current viewability standards are applicable to mobile.

Certain ad tech companies are also offering ‘100% viewable guaranteed’ in-feed ads, catered specifically to mobile users, and more specifically to millennials “whose first digital language is mobile”, and who tend to consume content – including video – on vertically-tilted screens.

Anti-fraud crackdown

Marketers continue to waste vast of amounts of ad spend on inventory which never gets seen. Thanks to bot fraud, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) predicted some $7.2 billion could be lost this year, up from $6.3 billion from 2015, and programmatic is only making the problem worse, attracting 73% more bots than direct buys.

Interestingly, just 7.4% of our respondents saw ad fraud to be the most pressing factor of lagging viewability rates, despite the fact the problem is only growing with increased ad spend.

Baker believes that a new digital trading standard can contribute to a solution by outlawing “shady” industry techniques, such as “blackboxing, artificial floor pricing or undisclosed bidding fees”, adding that increased defence against false impressions should become the “status quo”.

“The lack of consolidation makes room for intruders to abuse the ecosystem. Thus, digital marketers need to consider advanced programmatic buying strategies, which evaluates supply quality in order to increase campaign performance, viewability and brand safety.

“Such tweaks to bidding algorithms help ensure industry partners, from buy-side to sell-side, are held accountable.”

If you’re interested in conducting a research project with PerformanceIN, or commenting in our analysis, we’d like to speak to you – just email our editorial staff at content@performancein.com