Let me take you back to the summer of 2013 when Google introduced Active View, an option that allowed marketers to purchase impressions for display and remarketing adverts only when they were deemed to have been ‘viewed’. Google defined ‘viewed’ as more than 50% of your advert displayed in the viewing area of the screen for over one second.
For reference, the previous option of impression bidding on a CPM (cost per thousand) basis meant you were charged each time the advert was simply ‘loaded’ or ‘served’ on the page, irrespective of whether it was actually seen on the screen or not.
Without getting too carried away on the numbers, for marketers it was a welcome innovation that certainly helped refine the scattergun tactic of display advertising. It brought with it metrics within AdWords such as viewable impressions and viewable click-through rates – great for marketers who are always looking to improve ‘viewability’!
At the time, according to a report by Comscore, 31% of online adverts went unseen by the intended viewer.
So, what’s changed now?
This time around, Google has announced that they have removed the ‘old’ version and now all of your impression bidding for display and remarketing will be based on the vCPM model: viewable Cost per thousand.
The Butterfly Effect
The benefits of vCPM to your marketing budget have already been well documented, but it’s the knock-on effect of this change and others in the pipeline that I am keen to explore here. These are changes that will ultimately affect the way we access and interact with the web as we know it.
The first obvious change has been the way page layouts across the web are now optimised across all devices to maximise advert impressions. You will be all too familiar with seeing adverts inserted within article copy, or framing the entire page. This has certainly tarnished the user experience, particularly on mobile – we’ve all clicked on adverts by mistake and had to wait while a new browser page loads with some irrelevant product screaming at you, in addition to the drain on the processing power of your device or your data allowance. We are now inundated with ads filling up our screens so that the webmaster receives their cut of the $ or £.
This has, of course, given rise to advent of Ad-Blockers – now seeing the kind of growth rate matched only by the Labour Party membership in the run up to #VoteCorbyn – and here we sit in the middle of a conundrum. Consumers want to block ads and ideally want to view content in general for free, yet webmasters will only receive payment from ads when they’re seen and they need this revenue to produce the content in the first place!
If this trend carries on the way it’s started, then the ‘free worldwide web’ as we know it will continue to evolve into what resembles a ‘private gated residential suburb’ – websites either requiring subscriptions for access with fewer or no ads (wishful thinking!) or a world of ‘Apps’ where webmasters regain control of their content and decide how much advertisement you should be subjected to.
Certain sites have always requested donations in order to keep the experience ad-free, notably Wikipedia. Sites that rely on advertising revenue, such as The Guardian, can now detect if you are using an Ad-Blocker and display an encouraging message for you to subscribe instead. These terms aren’t yet enforced as it is still early days – however, it’s not a stretch to imagine this happening soon, especially with the pace at which the digital space moves.
They just need to find the balance that suits them between readership numbers for market share and revenue. For a glimpse of the near future, check out Contributor from Google, a product that for a sliding scale subscription will remove a percentage of adverts from the page.
What’s apparent is that it is in all our interests to find equilibrium here. Music was initially ‘free’ with Napster before we started to pay for it and support artists through iTunes and Spotify. We require a similar balance here that works for publishers and consumers alike.