Advertisers have been demanding a change in the way ad inventory is purchased for many years. They are no longer willing to pay for ads that aren't considered viewable. But more intrusive ads aren't welcome either and many users are adopting ad blocking measures to fight back, including built-in ad blockers in the browser.

Beginning in January 2018, a 70 percent viewability standard for display ad campaigns will be broadly enforced. For a display ad to be viewable, at least 50 percent of the ad must be within the viewport for at least one second (two seconds for video). Sites with programmatic advertising inventory less than 70 percent viewable will see a dramatic drop in fill rate and eCPMs.

What can you do to prepare your site for this change?

1. Find out your current viewability score.

Viewability scores for TownNews iQ participants can be found in the Ad Ops monthly reporting for DFP Premium users. See overall percentage of viewable ad impressions, as well as viewable ad impressions broken down by size. Reporting is limited for DFP Small Business users and may not include viewability. Depending on how your local advertising is managed, reports may or may not include local. Contact us for more information.

2. Optimize your site for responsiveness and speed.

Ensure you have a responsive and mobile-friendly site, then design ads for optimal viewability no matter the device. According to a 2017 usage report from ComScore, 71 percent of the total minutes spent online were on mobile devices. Consider differences between mobile, desktop and tablet layouts such as screen size and user experience.

And the quicker your site loads, the more viewable your ads are. Faster pages result in 25 percent higher ad viewability, 70 percent longer user sessions, and 35 percent lower bounce rates. Google also factors page speed into its rankings, so a faster site can lead to better SEO.

What can you do to optimize your page download speed?

  • Make sure that your site uses responsive design, and your ads and images are optimized for different device sizes.
  • Optimize and compress images and videos, and look for other ways to reduce file sizes. Caution: If you use outstream videos, these can drastically slow pages. Weigh pagespeed with revenue to determine what makes the most sense for your site.
  • Analyze the various elements on your site that are processed and rendered. For example, some widgets may be small in download size, but slow to render.
  • Minimize ad requests and passbacks. The more requests a page makes to get all the needed information, the longer it takes to download.
  • Take advantage of caching, when it makes sense.
  • Test your current page speed. A few of the more popular tools are PageSpeed Insights from Google, Pingdom, YSlow, GTMetrix.com or webPagetest.org.

3. Review your current ad inventory and layout.

Ad location on pages is very important. Vertical ads on desktop, especially those that begin above the fold, have higher viewability. Below the fold ads, while less preferable, can be just as viewable depending on how the user engages with the content.

  • Place banner ads (970 x 250 or 728 x 90) below the navigation. Studies show that most people immediately start scrolling when a page begins to load, so ads at the very top of the page are often ignored.
  • Use "sticky" ads on mobile and desktop for high viewability.
  • Avoid ads that consume too much space on the screen. A 300 x 250 adhesion ad, for example, on mobile consumes too much space on the small screen.
  • Format ads for mobile. One of the major causes of low viewability on mobile devices is improper formatting. A 300 x 600 ad unit is very popular on larger viewports. However, the viewport of a standard smartphone is 320 x 480, so this ad does not allow users to interact with anything else on the site.
  • Position ads at regular intervals in the story. Especially for mobile, having in-story ads every few paragraphs helps improve viewability as well as ad impressions.
  • Use vertical galleries. This provides the opportunity to place an ad between each photo to increase inventory and viewability.

4. Try new ad positions: anchor and sticky ads.

Update ad layouts on desktop and mobile with new higher viewability positions. Bottom anchor ads and in-image ads work well on mobile devices. Desktop devices allow you to take advantage of the sticky article-aside and right rail options.

When it comes to display ads, less is more. Advertisers want a quality impression over a quantity of impressions. The goal is to provide impactful, viewable placements. Google will soon begin automatically screening out what it considers "intrusive" ads in the Chrome browser, so ad clutter will have a direct, negative impact on viewability.

5. Enable Lazy Loading.

This may be the most important tool to improve viewability. Lazy ad loading refers to serving an ad only when it becomes viewable to the user. For example, ads at the bottom of a page only serve when a user scrolls down. While lazy loading does increase the overall viewability percentage of ads and in turn CPMs, it may result in fewer ad impressions.

6. Coming soon: turn on Auto-Refresh for ads.  

Ads are setup to automatically refresh at a designated time frame and work well for long form articles or videos. Auto-Refresh ads require user interaction with the site, such as clicking on galleries or scrolling up or down, before a refresh will occur. This ensures the ad impression is legitimate and the ad spot is viewable in the browser at the time it loads.

TownNews is constantly researching, testing and implementing new ways to help improve viewability for our partners. Check back for more information on improvements we're making and best practices you can implement.

For more information about the TownNews iQ program or to schedule a site review, contact the TownNews Ad Ops team today.

Patty Bristol is the Ad Ops Program Manager at TownNews.