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Q&A: Jeff Burkett, Sr. Director Ad Innovation & Product Strategy The Washington Post, on Ad Viewability

September 9, 2014 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

Q: Is Viewability ready to be used as a measurement of ad performance?JeffBurkett

A: Viewability of ad impressions is going to become a major strategic advantage for premium digital publishers. Over the last 10 years, the long-tail of the internet has flooded the marketplace with billions of impressions that are never seen, dragging down the value of impressions on properties that have meaningful levels of reader engagement on both content and ads. However, this transition is going to be painful as the technologies for viewability use inconsistent methodologies, don’t work well in all ad serving environments and are subject to human error.

In preparation for transacting on viewable impressions, the first major hurdle pubs must get over is ensuring ‘measurability’. Many pubs have been focused on designing pages for viewabililty, which needs to be done, but if the technology used for transacting cannot measure an impression then it can never be viewable regardless of how optimal your design is. This involves getting your ad ops team looking closely at all of the major measurement vendors, running tests over and over again to ensure that your ad tags are set up properly to ensure maximum measurability. This way, you can limit the amount of wasted impressions and lost revenue as this becomes more of the norm.

There is still one major hole in the ecosystem around viewability and that is with view-through attribution. An impression may not be viewable, but it can still drop a ‘viewed’ cookie in the users’ browser. A marketer may not pay for an impression if it’s not viewed, but they are still giving credit for any conversions that result from those non-viewable impressions. Until this is fixed, low quality/high volume players will hold an advantage over premium publishers.

Q: How do you work to ensure that ads are viewable and to provide marketers with appropriate and accurate measures for the performance of their digital advertising? 

A: Getting the maximum ‘in-view time’ for ads requires a deep understanding of exactly how readers use your site, which requires huge amounts of testing and data analysis. One good example of this we found is that above-the-fold does not mean highly viewable. Some readers are in the habit of scrolling down the page quickly, even before the page is fully loaded. Understanding where your readers engage with content and putting ads in close proximity to that is critical….and it’s not always common sense.

I don’t believe that viewability is a performance metric at all, but is rather just a huge step up from the old ‘served’ impression metric that we have used for years. However, a focus on increasing viewability will result in greater performance on the major engagement metrics like Universal Interaction Rate and Click Through that marketers value highly. It is this increased performance that will eventually lead to higher CPMs.

Q: Is achieving a standardized measure and method for viewability important?

A: A standardized measure and method for viewability has already been determined, the MRC has lifted its advisory and most importantly, the clients are demanding it from their agencies. There are still some technical hurdles to get over, but the framework is there and a quorum of vendor technologies has been accredited.

I would encourage publishers to start transacting on viewable now. Use this as an opportunity to work out any bugs in your ad stack and to locate where measurability is low. These learning can inform strategies and policies before the large flood of viewable transaction demands come in later this year.

Jeff Burkett is the Senior Director of Ad Innovation and Product Strategy at The Washington Post. He has worked in digital advertising since 2002 and is currently responsible for the Post’s overall digital monetization strategy, as well as the operations teams that support this large, complex business.

He works closely with editorial, marketing, sales and technology staff to leverage the full potential of WP’s audience, focusing on strategic initiatives that are well ahead of the curve. Under Jeff’s leadership, WP has executed successful ad strategies for native, social, video, mobile web, tablets, podcasting and other alternative platforms.

Jeff is currently focused on Viewability, Programmatic and methods for leveraging 1st party data to increase CPM’s.

Related posts:

Q&A: Justin Choi, CEO, Nativo on Ad Viewability


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