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Gold below the fold: new metrics promise end of unseen ads

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According to estimates, 30 percent of online ads are seen by no one at all. This happens when ads are stuffed on part of a Web page that no one sees or when an ad doesn’t finish loading until after a reader has scrolled past it.

In either case, the phantom ads amount to a frightful waste for ad buyers and a problem for publishers who still face skepticism about the efficacy of online ads.

A New Era of Online Ads

Now, new ad technology is promising to eliminate ghost ads while also giving publishers new tools to assign premium or bargain prices to ads on different parts of a webpage.

Both comScore (S SCOR) and SAY Media say they’ve solved the phantom ad menace with kits that let advertisers use dashboards to confirm the ads they buy are seen and not just served.

“Advertisers will know what’s rendered and what’s not,” says Matt Sanchez of SAY Media, whose partner sites include popular tech destinations like TechDirt and ReadWriteWeb. He says the technology produces click through rates three to four times higher than the industry standard.

The upshot of the new ad metrics should be a drop in overall ad inventory and an increase in CPM (cost per thousand impressions) because advertisers can now have more confidence about about what they’re buying.

The new tools, which both companies have unveiled in the last few weeks, may also juice the market for ads based on views alone.

According to Forbes’ Chief Insight Officer, Bruce Rogers, many brands responded to the financial crisis by retrenching to ads based on “transactional activities” — in other words, they’ll pay for ads that are clicked but not having their ads simply appear on a site.

Rogers hopes that Forbes’ decision to use comScore’s new tool, called “Validated Campaign Essentials,” will lead more ad buyers to build brand awareness by paying for pure impressions.

‘Gold below the Fold’

New ad verification techniques are likely to change not only ad buyers’ calculations but those of publishers as well.

According to Andrew Lipsman of comScore, content companies may be undervaluing some of their “below the fold” inventory. In practice, this means they’re selling down-the-page ads at a clearance even when those ads may be getting some of the best exposure on their site.

“There’s gold below the fold,” says Lipsman, who claims the new technology will allow publishers to identify and properly price their best ad space.

SAY Media’s Sanchez argues that the technology will also force publishers to remake their page layouts, and optimize their design to accommodate fewer and more effective ads.

“There’s too many ads on a page. It’s time to pull of the clutter.”

Build it — but will anyone come?

The new tools seem like a win-win for both ad buyers and publishers, and could end much of the black magic that many people associate with online ad buying.

But that doesn’t mean people will use them.

“For advertisers, this should be like ‘sound the flight of the angels.’ Who would say no? But I’ve been somewhat surprised that the impact and uptake wasn’t immediate,” said Forbes’ Bruce Rogers.

Rather than rushing to embrace the product, he says, the industry has so far responded with “inertia.”

Rogers thinks this is understandable given supply chains and entrenched habits. He hopes that the site of the new ad tracking dashboards will soon lead more advertisers to jump on board.

“It’s going to happen.”

3 Responses to “Gold below the fold: new metrics promise end of unseen ads”

  1. David Hahn

    Thanks for the insightful article. “Viewable Impressions” is quickly becoming a buzz word, but, as with other aspects of brand protection, it’s important for the industry to rally around companies and solutions that solve the issue rather than just point it out, which is why we launched our ad viewability quality ratings in September of last year. The concept of “Gold Below the Fold” is interesting, and we have done a lot of analysis into how so-called premium, above the fold ads actually perform compared to those below the fold. More and more advertisers are understanding that above the fold means nothing if their ad is never in view. Viewability and solutions that not only monitor it but help advertisers, agencies and publishers adjust their strategy based on it are going to be what moves the industry to action.