Ads Above the Fold Are Not More Viewable

So why are they priced at a premium?

Roughly half of online ads are going unseen, per various reports. This is creating a nightmarish scenario for advertisers who face the prospect of wasted spending while publishers are left having to reassure buyers whose confidence in the medium is shaken.

Google and others are responding with tools that promise to ensure advertisers their ads are being seen. One outcome of this is that the long-held assumption that ads at the top of the page are most viewed is being challenged. That’s potentially worrisome for publishers who have been selling those ads at a premium.

But now, there’s new evidence to that effect coming from an unlikely source. The Washington Post is going public with research showing that visitors scroll quickly on certain types of pages, and when they do, they’re more likely to see ads low down on the page than at the top.

“[Marketers] say, I want above-the-fold impressions,” said Jeff Burkett, senior director of ad innovations and client services at the Post. “I know enough now that above-the-fold doesn’t mean viewable. There may be some ads that are below the fold that perform better.”

Based on the research, the Post created an ad unit to combat quick scrolling by following the viewer for the first seven seconds of scrolling. After seven seconds, the “Superview” unit floats back to the top of the page. Tests with four vendors resulted in viewability increases of 9 percent to 19 percent. When one vendor, Moat, tested engagement, it found the unit scored 31 percent higher than the control unit.

It was important that the unit didn’t interfere with the reading experience. The Post believes it’s addressed those concerns in a couple ways. While Superview does cover up the popular top-read stories box, the unit floats away after seven seconds, and if the viewer closes it completely, the unit will disappear for a 24-hour period.

Other publishers have introduced new units and redesigned their sites to maximize ad viewability. Forbes has its “conversation” unit that stays with viewers as they move down the page. Earlier this year, it lowered the position of its leaderboard unit to improve its chance of being seen by quick scrollers. Mark Howard, chief revenue officer, said both units have seen improved views and interaction.

Buyers whose clients have bought the Post’s unit say they like that the unit stays in the viewer’s field of vision without being intrusive. “You don’t want to annoy your audience, especially when it’s a very niche audience,” said Robert Kovalcik, a media planner at mcgarrybowen, whose client is Northrop Grumman.

“We’ve always insisted on wanting to see our ads above the fold, but it was interesting to see this data because I think it’s proving us wrong,” said Antoine Abeille, associate at Carat, with client Johnnie Walker.

Revelations like these are bound to lead to reevaluation of what should be premium ad space and what shouldn’t. Some, like Howard, believe that when ads are bought and sold on viewability, the premiums will shift from one placement to another rather than go away. “It’ll balance out,” he said.