The New World of Measuring Digital Advertising: Viewability, Analytics, and A/B Testing

You’ve already paid for banner ads and leaderboards. But what happens when your target audience installs ad blocking software—or simply never scrolls down to see your ad?

Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble, recently stated that P&G will only be paying for “viewable” media.

Recent years have been tumultuous for the digital advertising world. The rush to convert print publications to digital offerings, spawning “PRINT IS DEAD” articles across the web, introduced new developments and opportunities in digital advertising.

Using real-time bidding (RTB) technology, advertisers could buy ads based on impression volume on digital publication sites. Further tech developments allowed ads to be tagged with tracking “pixels” to track these impressions and their viewability.

Unfortunately, many recorded “impressions” are not actually seen by people. This disconnect is at the heart of the comments from P&G.

The reality of paying for only viewable impressions is that publishers have less inventory.

Publishers will be paid only for the tiny segment of ads that are at least 50% in view (on the screen) for 1 second, the International Advertising Bureau (IAB) & Media Rating Council (MRC) standard for a viewable impression.

Realistically, a shift toward viewable impressions will force brands to pay more for those placements; fewer available placements in higher demand will increase cost per thousand impressions (CPM).

Although focusing exclusively on viewability metrics is a natural reaction, this increased price has led some experts to advise against paying exclusively for viewable impressions as an ad-buy tactic because of the sheer cost and reduced inventory. 

An additional challenge comes in the measurement of viewable impressions. Other setbacks include ad blocking software, which blocks ads from appearing on users’ screens (meaning that the tracking pixel also does not load and record a view).

Third-party validation services have come into existence to add a layer of visibility to ad buying. To monitor this, the IAB & MRC have teamed up with digital marketing players to create the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, which specifically focuses on viewability. 

However, the rapid pace of technology means that the IAB & MRC are struggling to maintain up-to-date “guidelines” for targeting in digital advertising.

How Viewability Affects Your Analytics

Measurement can go a long way to further digital advertising efficacy and improve use of your advertising budget. It allows for granular optimization throughout an advertising campaign, and presents the clearest picture we have available for what views or engagements are actually happening.

One of the most common examples of marketing measurements is A/B testing: looking at click-through rates (CTR) for copy, creative, or web design should tell you which formats are most successful at driving engagement.

But there is a problem in the way that A/B tests are measured. These tests often use clicks divided by impressions as a key metric—but clicks/impressions does not equate to clicks/VIEWABLE impressions.

If A/B tests rely on impressions data that do not actually reflect the user’s experience on a page, it is more difficult to draw meaningful conclusions.

Thankfully, there is a solution. Let’s look at the key benefits of adding a tracking “pixel” to your ads.

Brand Safety

Adding a tracking pixel verifies which websites your ads appear on.

When you purchase ad space, the ad server places the media on sites that have listed inventory. But there’s so much available inventory that it’s impossible to completely vet all sites. Sometimes “adult content,” or sites that oppose your brand’s core values, get through.

A tracking pixel can help you make sure your ads are showing up on sites that do not damage your brand. Once you’ve identified sites, creating a black (or block) list for the server to stop serving ads on can remove them from RTB buys.


A pixel can determine which of your ads was actually seen instead of paid for, served, and never seen.

An example of when an ad can go unseen is when a page loads but the user doesn’t scroll down far enough to see it, or when another window blocks the user’s vision of the ad.

This changes the key performance ratios marketers have historically looked at, as it means the traditionally used impressions number is inflated.

A tracking pixel can help you optimize your ad buys to target sites with greater viewability.

A New Direction for Digital Advertising

Finding a way to pay for third-party verification is an issue—does the publisher pay for it because they should be responsible for this information?

Does the advertiser pay for this because it is just an added layer of information that is not actually essential to starting a campaign?

Does the brand pay for this because it ultimately leads to higher-quality media and better use of their budget?

As advertisers encounter increasingly more roadblocks, it becomes harder to throw ads into the abyss and hope something happens. Having hyper-targeted ads and consistent optimization allows for a higher-quality brand interaction.

This is a new concept. In all traditional media, advertisers really did pay for placements and hoped for the best. As the merchant John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Advanced tracking technology lets advertisers see which half of advertising works. But ensuring that analytics and impressions are accurate is an important step in crafting more effective advertising campaigns.

CG Life amplifies the power and reach of your brand with the highest quality media buys. We strive to optimize targeting, budget usage, and advanced technology applications to make sure your message gets through the noise. Contact us if you would like our team of experts to walk you through the latest advertising technology options.