Both display ad and video ad viewability rates – the percent of display ads that are actually seen by users – are shockingly low.

According to a study released by Google in December, 47% of desktop video ads are not even viewable. For the purposes of the study, “viewable” means “at least 50 percent of the ad’s pixels are visible on a screen for at least two consecutive seconds.”

This report by Google corroborated previous studies which showed similar results.

Google’s study, however, goes on to point out that its own platform, YouTube, dominates the industry average in terms of viewability: 91% of YouTube’s desktop video ads are considered viewable, versus the industry average of 53%.

Even more fascinating than YouTube numbers are mobile numbers.

Industry average mobile viewability rates are 30% higher than desktop viewability rates, at 83%. Naturally, YouTube’s mobile numbers are even higher than this, at 94%.

Viewability of Display Advertising

Over the years, there have been several reports that display advertising suffers from low viewability rates. In 2012, for instance, ComScore reported that 31% of display ads are never seen.

And, the following year, ComScore reported that 54% of display ads are never seen. This second study highlighted the major difference between networks and exchanges versus premium publisher sites: premium sites earned a 54% viewability rating while ad exchanges and networks only earned 31% viewability rates.


Nielsen reiterated similar findings in its Q3 2014 report, claiming that 53.4% of display ads served via direct publishers were viewable, versus 36.7% of impressions on ad networks and exchanges.

These reports were a big concern for advertisers, who are often still paying for these unseen impressions.

Interestingly, Google’s recent study didn’t hide the fact that its own display ad platforms had low viewability rates of 56.1%. Why would the company reveal such low statistics for its own network, even going so far as to display them in a big infographic?

Google highlighted the fact that some publishers have horrendous numbers. According to Google, “Roughly 10 percent of domains are delivery viewability rates below 35 percent.”

The company encourages companies to weed out publishers that perform poorly and focus their budgets on networks and publishers that can deliver viewability rates greater than 50%.

Some wondered why Google would go to such lengths to highlight its own “low” viewability rates.

Although the numbers seem low, Google has successfully demonstrated that it leads the pack in terms of viewability rates. In fact, viewability itself should now be considered one of the most critical metrics – if not the standard metric – by which to measure ad networks, exchanges, and publishers.

Factors that Affect Viewability of Display Ads

When Google dug into its findings, there were 5 key findings that affected display ad viewability:

1. An outsized number of publishers dragged down display ad viewability rates.

2. Ads right above the fold performed better than ads at the top of a page.

3. Ads above the fold only achieved 68% viewability, versus around 40% of ads below the fold.

4. Vertical ad units were the most viewable, while the popular 300 x 250 ad unit had the lowest viewability rate at 41%.

5. Different verticals achieved different viewability rates: reference scored the highest at 51.9% while hobbies and leisure scored the lowest at 44.8%.


Video Marketing: From Viewability to Longevity

Viewability itself should clearly take the spotlight as one of the most critical metrics for measuring campaign success and return on ad spend.

Obviously, mobile video ads outstrip other forms of display advertising when it comes to viewability rates. So don’t be surprised if advertisers shift big portions of their ad spend to the mobile video arena.

While viewability is a critical metric that to display and video advertising campaigns, longevity and visibility are corollaries that can be applied to video marketing.

That is, videos which stay visible in front of viewers over the long haul are considered more “viewable.”

Since Facebook’s native video platform is a hot topic these days, some video marketers are wondering whether they should hop on board Facebook’s new platform or focus on existing platforms, like YouTube.

A recent study performed by Visible Measures found that Facebook often outperforms YouTube in short-term viewability, but the reverse is true over the long-term.

The nature of the News Feed, and the nature of the social network itself, allows for fast spread of content, including videos. But the same fast-paced platform sharply reduces video campaign visibility over the long haul.

For instance, according to Visible Measures, Facebook had 25% of total viewership of Super Bowl ad campaigns two days after the Super Bowl. Two months later, however, YouTube dominated with 81% versus Facebook’s 18.5%.

According to Visible Measures CEO Brian Shin, “The strength of Facebook to promote trending content also highlights how powerful YouTube remains as a platform for continued viewership.”

Takeaways for Marketers and Advertisers

It is clear that viewability, visibility, and longevity remain critical factors for every campaign. When it comes to ad campaign decisions, whether they are display ads, video ads, or content marketing campaigns, there are clearly a number of technical factors that should weigh in on the decision-making process.

In terms of advertising, mobile and mobile video are clearly winning the viewability race. Given the current statistics, marketers may do well to shift their advertising dollars towards high-performing publishers and platforms.

And in terms of video marketing visibility and longevity, marketers should focus their efforts on platforms that meet their goals. Facebook video clearly outperforms YouTube in the short term, but for long-term visibility, YouTube is clearly the winner.