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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Can we please leave viewability out of content marketing?

October 27, 2015 | By Asaf Hochman, Product Marketer—Outbrain

Content marketing has captured the marketing world by storm in the past couple of years. Marketers finally have a toolset to tell stories and build brands online rather than only harvesting consumer intent as before. Indeed, eight out of ten marketers are already marketing with content.

Like many new marketing disciplines, including social marketing during its infancy, content marketing still lacks standardization, especially when it comes to measurement. Marketers have been struggling to identify ways to effectively track and measure content marketing. Content Marketing Institute research shows that the primary content marketing metric is traffic to the brand’s content, i.e. how many people discover my content.

Most marketers also take into consideration standard web metrics such as time on page, articles consumed during the visit, video completions, social shares, etc. Advanced content marketers are going the extra mile and tracking “high-value actions” – events that indicate that their audiences are more valuable. For example, an auto maker might define someone going from its content to the dealer locater page as a high-value action. At the end of the day it’s all about engagement.

In the past year though a new metric started emergingviewability. Viewability is an essential metric in a digital marketing world increasingly going programmatic, where marketers are able to get less expensive inventory but of sometimes questionable quality.

Unfortunately, viewability holds little relevance for content marketing. Let me explain why.

The content marketing metrics we’ve discussed above all have one thing in common—they all track engagement with the content itself, a big shift away from the display world, where the ad impression holds a lot of value. The value for marketers in display advertising comes from consumers being exposed to ads on publisher sites. The value in content marketing is completely different and comes from the consumer reading the article or watching the video, not from glancing at a unit promoting it.

This value is much more similar to search advertising, where marketers don’t care if their Google ads are viewed; they only care if they were clicked and led to the desired action. And there’s a reason no one requires Google to provide viewability tracking on Adwords: It just doesn’t mean much. It’s all about consumer engagement after he or she raises their hand and clicks.

The other digital marketing behemoth, Facebook, just announced it’ll start offering viewability tracking, which stems from Facebook’s CPM model. When marketers pay CPMs they essentially pay for impression value (or the value of a 1000 impressions), and therefore, viewability of these impressions is essential and needs to be tracked. For Facebook’s CPC offering, viewability doesn’t matter as much as engagement, though.

In general, the whole content marketing industry is moving towards engagement-oriented pricing models: cost-per-click, cost-per-view, cost-per-engagement, cost-per-acquisition, etc. For publishers, it can be a worrisome scenario as so much of their inventory is tied to CPM pricing. But if they believe content marketing and native advertising can help revive dwindling ad revenues, they will have to adjust their pricing models to engagement-oriented ones. Marketers, for their part, should distinguish between scenarios where viewability matters—like programmatic-based display advertising—and when it doesn’t, like search marketing and content marketing.

One of the major drivers of the viewability trend has been marketers’ justified concerns about fraudulent impressions in the growing programmatic eco-system. While viewability is great at providing reassurance for display advertising, there are better ways to assure fraud-free content marketing. In content marketing, fraud tends to manifest itself in non-human traffic (bots) that usually generates low engagement and can effectively be monitored with ad verification companies that guarantee actual human beings consume your content.

After 20 years of annoying consumers with ineffective banner ads, content marketing lends marketers the opportunity they’ve been longing for: a means of telling brand stories that fosters delight and conversation with consumers, rather than indifference or outright annoyance. It would be a shame to mar content marketing’s momentum with irrelevant display-age metrics. Let’s focus on delighting consumers with great content and measuring the ensuing engagement instead.


Senior Director of Product Marketing, Asaf Hochman (@asafhoch) focuses on Outbrain Amplify and works with brands and agencies to do better marketing. Previously, Asaf was a digital strategist at ad agencies Grey, TBWA, and Publicis, and also spent time on the client-side at Red Bull and General Mills.

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