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Google recently released an infographic, The Importance of Being Seen, on the viewability of display ads by consumers. Short and succinct, the study determined that…

Overall, only 56% of all display ad impressions are actually viewed.

The study also found that,

  • Above the fold is a better position than at the top of the page, with 68% viewability
  • Below the fold can be effective
  • Vertical ad units are seen more than horizontal ones
  • Performance varies across industries

So what does all of this mean and what should you do with it? In this post, we’ll address these questions and more, starting with,

Are people seeing my banner?

Yes, but just not all of the time. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines whether or not a display ad is viewed based on if at least 50% of the ad’s pixels are in view on the screen for a minimum of 1 second. One second – that’s slower than your average scroll, but faster than someone loading the page and walking away. Thus, it is likely that only 50% of your banner impressions are actually seen by the human eye. However, you should also keep in mind that unless you have strict frequency caps on your campaigns, even if user A can’t see your banner on site B, they may very well see it on site C, when they’re surfing for something else.

Should I pause my display campaigns?

No, but with a caveat. If you’ve run display ads in the past, you know that they can drive click traffic and conversions. Additionally, they contribute to the click volume and conversions on your paid search campaigns. Display ads are also a great way to try and reach new consumers who are unfamiliar with your product and wouldn’t automatically search or click on your paid search ad.

Now the caveat…

If your performance data shows either no lift in brand awareness, site traffic, or to your other channels (eg. paid search), then it’s time to rethink where you are advertising and why. The answer could be as simple as shifting budget to a different vendor who is more in line with your target market or as complex as an entire revamp of all of your creative and display goals.

If in reviewing your data you find out that your display strategy needs a complete overhaul, consider this before you let the impending workload get you all pause-happy: while possible, it is rare that display campaigns are ever completely ineffective. At their worst, ads delivered via this online marketing channel drive increased traffic toward your site by raising brand awareness, so doesn’t developing a new display campaign sound completely worth the investment? We think it does.

Should I limit my ad position to above the fold?

No. Although Google’s determined that above the fold has a 68% viewability vs. the 40% of below the fold, when you break out the data between these two positions a bit more granularly, you see that your ads have better chances of being viewed below the fold than they do above the fold. In addition, jockeying for above the fold visibility often comes with premium prices and higher position competition, which could likely increase your costs exponentially without driving that many more conversions or visitors to your site. If, however, you leave your campaign open to whichever position is available in the auction and set competitive bids, you’ll still be viewed in either of the two areas on the page.

Should I rethink my ad sizes?

Potentially. Before deciding yes or no here, review your performance data – something you are already doing as part of your normal campaign optimization, yes? So, let’s say you see better performance with your 160×600 while your 300×250 is expensive and not converting. Your initial response to these results may be, oh, of course it makes sense to either pause the 300×250 or bid it down so that I’m not spending as much. However, let’s consider Google’s recent findings again. There is still a 41% viewability rate on the 300×250, so it’s not a quick – pause all horizontal units – decision. You really need to consider all of the available data before you flip that switch.

What’s my next move?

To truly get the most out of this study, you should analyze your current display budgets and campaign performance stats, then determine if you’re allocating your dollars in the most efficient places. When digging into the data, here are some questions to consider:

  1. Goals – what am I trying to achieve with these display campaigns?
    • If your main goal is to drive more awareness, then you should determine just how much money you’re comfortable spending on your campaigns.
    • If your main goal is to drive more conversions, then you should take a look at campaign performance, cost per conversion, and whether or not your display campaigns drive paid search click and conversion volume before implementing any changes.
  1. Budget – How much spend am I allocating to display vs. paid search?
    • Test out different percentages spent on paid search vs. display. Allow each new balance variation to run for at least two weeks, but preferably closer to 4, to determine how much of an impact a lower display budget has on your total conversion volume. Once the results are in, make adjustments accordingly.
    • Advanced option – Is it possible to split your display budget out into brand awareness vs. direct response, so that you can test both? Try it out!
  1. Bid Strategy – Which bid strategy works best for my campaigns?
    • Viewable CPM only charges you when 50 percent of your ad shows on screen for one second or longer, so you should only pay for ads that are seen. This strategy works best in brand awareness, where the goal is to get as many eyeballs on your ad as possible.
    • CPC bid strategies only charge you when a consumer clicks on your ad. This strategy works best if efficiency and direct response are your goals, since you only pay if the consumer takes an action on your banner.

Important Note Here: Depending on the targeting of your campaigns, sometimes viewable CPM is more effective than CPC and vice versa. So, your best bet is to run a test, where one type of GDN targeting campaign is bid one way for 30 days and then the other for 30 days. Review the results after the 60 days to see which one achieved your desired result. Rinse and repeat for the other targeting types you’re using in your campaigns.

In the end, what it boils down to is that display ads do contribute to your overall marketing goals. You just need to figure out by how much to inform how much you are willing to spend on them. As with any marketing channel offering growth potential in the online space, the motto remains test, test, test, rather than pause, pause, pause.

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1 Comment
  • Kevin

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing with us.

    July 7, 2015 at 3:51 am Reply
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