Google reveals startling fact that 56% of online advertisements fall into the digital abyss, never seen by web visitors

Many of the ads served on the web are never actually “seen” by readers - this is the startling fact disclosed by Google, disclosed in a paper 'The importance of being seen'.

The Google disclosure is serious food for thought for companies flocking to the web to grow their online presence. According to Google, 56.1% of ads published on web pages are not seen. Two other digital market researchers, Sticky and Comscore have also highlighted the high instances of unseen ads placed across the web.

Google says in its report: “Many of the ads served on the web never appear on a screen. But thanks to new advancements, we can now measure which digital ads were actually viewable on screen. And as advertisers shift to paying for viewable instead of served impressions, it’s important to understand what factors affect ad viewability.”

Google itself generates a high amount of revenue from advertisers. Its annual 2013 revenue was US$59 billion, the bulk of it from advertising revenue.

According to Google, factors affecting viewability include page position and ad dimensions, among others.

When is an ad considered viewable? Google says a display ad is considered viewable when 50% of an ad’s pixels are in view on the screen for a minimum of one second, as defined by the US Media Rating Council.

Here are the factors affecting an online ad’s viewability

  • The most viewable position is right above the fold, not at the top of the page.

  • Ad size matters. The most viewable ad sizes are vertical units. Not a surprise, since they stay on screen longer as users move around a page. The 120x240 dimensions are the most viewable, with a 55.6% viewability rate. The least being 330x250 (41%).

  • Here’s the caveat: Not all above-the-fold ads are viewable while many below-the-fold impressions are viewable. So page position isn’t always the best indicator of viewability.

  • The bottomline: While viewability depends on the type of content and industries, those with the best content have the highest viewability.

The impact of viewability

A 40%-improvement in ad viewability can produce a 75% increase in sales life from digital advertising, Adage.com said, citing  Aaron Fetters, director of Kellogg's Insights and Analytics Solutions Center.

Two years ago, Comscore, digital market intelligence company, reported that 31% of online display ads are never actually viewed, but upon further review, it found that 46% of ads are never seen by website visitors. Along a similar vein, Sticky reported that 77% of web ads served are actually never seen. Its research shows that web visitors spend an average of only 1.7 seconds looking at an ad before moving on. Sticky tracked 500 consumers across 25 different websites with 25 different brand ads.

Comscore also highlighted the need to shift  away from measuring successful campaigns based on click rates. According to Comscore, clicks had the lowest correlation with conversion, far underperforming other metrics analysed. This was based on research done by Comscore and Pretarget, which showed that increasing the hover/dwell rate can have a dramatic impact on conversion rate. (Full report here)

Key takeaway from Google