How LinkedIn Is Solving the Viewability Conundrum in Programmatic Advertising

August 8, 2016

Editor’s note: This the second installment in a multi-part series examining the evolution of programmatic ad buying. Read the first installment on audience targeting.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? This classic koan is similar to the question marketers who are buying display ads programmatically are asking: If an online ad isn’t viewable, is it really an ad? (And do I really have to pay for it?)

Marketers are flocking to programmatic ad buying for its many benefits. Programmatic delivers better access to audience via more accurate targeting, and it is extremely efficient, enabling automated ad placement on websites across the Internet through a single point-of-content.

However, with the rapid growth of programmatic buying and rise of the advertising technology industry, marketers have also seen new challenges emerge that they now have to contend with in order to be successful. But marketers have also experienced significant drawbacks with programmatic ad buying. One key challenge that has risen into a central issue over the past year A central issue with programmatic is “viewability” — the lack of which is consistently identified as a downside of programmatic buying.

The Viewability Question: A Significant Downside for Programmatic

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s standards hold that an online ad can be classified as “viewable” if it appears at least 50 percent on the screen for more than one second. The estimated industry-wide viewability rate is about 44 percent, according to a Google DoubleClick study. In simple terms, this means that 56 percent of global ad impressions served on websites are not viewable to humans. For the majority of advertisers this “wasted” spend is concerning, becauseit hinders their ability to measure and optimize efficiently and most importantly achieve a meaningful ROI.

With such a low bar for both defining viewability and for the percentage of actually viewable ads, it’s no surprise that research from Mixpo found that 69 percent of marketers identified viewability as extremely concerning or very concerning.

Clearly, this issue has made its way into the limelight as a top industry concern that needs to be addressed. Advertisers are now desperately searching to improve the transparency, predictability and quality of their programmatic buys to ensure as many of their impressions are viewable as possible.

In a recent AdExchanger column, John Lee, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Merkle, summarized the overriding concerns from viewability issues well: “For today’s increasingly knowledgeable advertiser, it is difficult to get visibility into the impact of programmatic dollars spent. The advertiser isn’t really clear on who actually saw the ad, where it was seen and who had to be paid along the way. There are many factors that contribute to this, including the poor quality of available inventory, open exchanges, fraud, nonviewable impressions and an opaque daisy chain of technology.”

We’ve Entered the Programmatic 2.0 Era

Programmatic has reached “bottom,” Lee said in his column, but he is optimistic for its future. Programmatic 1.0 is ending, and Programmatic 2.0 is on its way, he says.

Part of this new phase of programmatic will be a shift away from scale to quality. Instead of blindly buying access to hundreds of thousands of sites across the Internet, marketers are now focusing on buying a precisely targeted audience on a select view premium publishers — premium publishers that will deliver the audience and viewable impressions. One of the data points supporting this approach is a recent comScore study indicating that ads on premium websites are 67 percent more effective than those on non-premium sites.

With its recent introduction of programmatic buying for its display advertising, LinkedIn is helping to usher in Programmatic 2.0 — particularly when it comes to viewability. With programmatic buying on LinkedIn, there is a single display ad served above the fold on each page. This placement ensures advertisers that their dollars are being well-spent on impressions that will reach the audiences that matter most for their business. With LinkedIn Display Ads, programmatic advertisers can rest assured knowing their impressions are viewable to a premium audience of professional decision makers and deal influencers.

Typically, marketers who are looking to boost viewability rates of their online advertising must practice relentless vigilance. Marketers and their media buyers must test ads on various websites — and specific sections of websites — to find those with the highest viewability. This vigilance is a process that requires extra work, extra time, and extra money. With LinkedIn’s new programmatic buying, the ads are simply in view, and no additional effort from the marketer or their media buying shop is necessary.

Look for the next installment in this series on programmatic ad buying, when we explore the issue of brand safety. To keep pace with the latest in programmatic and other digital marketing trends, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog today.