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News Startups Like 'LittleThings' Are Trying to Tackle Viewability Early

But mobile may throw a wrench into their plans

The issue of viewability, online ads people can actually see, is the cause of much Sturm und Drang among publishers and advertisers these days, but a new wave of media upstarts are hoping to sidestep the issue by designing ad-friendly sites early on.

One such publisher is LittleThings, a year-old viral news and lifestyle site targeting women, which has seen its traffic rocket to 36.3 million unique visitors from 8.5 million this year, per comScore. The website plans to reveal a new ad-friendly design during the fourth quarter of this year. "Because we're only a year old, we have the benefit of seeing the challenges and the mistakes that others have made," explained Gretchen Tibbits, LittleThings COO. "We were able to fill in some [holes] from day one."

The goal is to give advertisers accurate data about how many people interact with campaigns. Newsfeed-like ads, for example, will be positioned between article paragraphs so advertisers only pay when the entire piece of creative is in view. With preroll and branded video, marketers will be charged when someone chooses to press play.

Despite the tweaks, ongoing challenges surrounding mobile viewability could push back LittleThings' burgeoning ad business.

Roughly 80 percent of site traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. That's a major problem because mobile brings a slew of headaches like the lack of data-tracking cookies and smaller screens, which watchdog the Media Ratings Council has yet to address. "Because mobile experiences are tightly controlled with cookies, it makes the problem technically extremely difficult to solve," said Andrew Frank, an analyst at Gartner.

The stakes are high for publishers to up the ante on viewability standards, pointed out Forrester Research senior analyst Susan Bidel. Now that marketers have survived the first wave of frustrations, "any new publisher should expect that advertisers are going to insist on 100 percent viewability," she explained. "If the publisher cannot deliver 100 percent viewability, the advertiser will pay for only viewable ads."

This story first appeared in the Aug. 31 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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