Key Points

  • Improving ad viewability can result in massive improvements in digital advertising revenue.
  • Managing the delicate balance between revenue and viewability is not as simple as it might sound, and requires constant maintenance.
  • Improving viewability requires a combination of adjusting ad layout and tweaking individual ad unit settings.

Wondering how much your viewability score affects your ad revenue? The answer is “quite a bit.” However, the simple act of increasing viewability may not result in increased revenue in all cases. And, in some cases working to improve your viewability may require short-term sacrifices in ad revenue.

Keep in mind that if you are trying to make a major jump in viewability (from 5% to 70% for instance), it will initially cause a pretty big drop in revenue. Stair stepping is also not the greatest option, as a change from 5% to 20% viewability will not have a major effect on improving results (since viewability is still far below the desired level to advertisers). 

So, essentially you have to decide if you want to go big or go home, and if you want to go big you’ll have to suck it up on the revenue front for a short period of time. So, basically, choose wisely when you make major changes to get a higher viewability rate (and do it with the knowledge of what effects it will have in the short term).

Ultimately it is a complex endeavor, but a worthwhile one. Read on to learn how to improve the ad viewability of your display and video ad inventory.



Definition of “Viewable”

An ad unit must have 50% of the ad’s pixels in view of the user for at least 1 second to be considered a “viewable" ad.

Measuring Viewability

Viewability metrics are typically measured by tools paid for by advertisers, like MOAT or other Media Rating Council (MRC) accredited tools. Thus, to get this reading publishers would either need to purchase a subscription to a tool like MOAT or use a publisher management system that provides viewability measurement for them (like Playwire’s RAMP Platform).

Google Ad Manager (GAM) does have some ability to estimate viewability, however, advertisers will typically use advertiser-focused tools, like MOAT. There are often large discrepancies between GAM’s reading of your site's viewability rate and MOAT’s, so knowing your viewability rate from an MRC-accredited tool is very important (as that will be the source of truth for advertisers bidding on your inventory).

The viewability standard or “gold standard” benchmark for high-quality inventory is a 70% viewability rate or more.

Changing Ad Layout to Improve Viewability

The first group of optimizations you can make to improve viewability are in how your units are laid out on the page. There are many best practices you can follow for ad unit layout, many of which will help improve viewability, but there are two changes that stand out in how much they can affect viewability.

These changes are by far the easiest approach for publishers to take on their own in improving viewability.

-- Article Continues Below --

Ad Layout Recommendations

Get Your Custom Ad Layout Recommendations!

Ads that are Too High on the Page

This is a common issue many websites suffer from. In many cases, you are looking to place ads above the fold in an effort to make sure they are seen immediately on page load.

This is a good thing, however the issue comes when you put the ad unit too high up on the page. If you place an ad directly under the navigation and above the main content of the page (a surprisingly popular ad placement), users are conditioned to *immediately* scroll past the ad to start reading the content.


This means that the ad may potentially be in view for less than a second before the user scrolls the page to the point where it is no longer visible. Because the definition of an ad being “viewable” hinges on that one second dwell time, this can often significantly hurt an ad unit’s viewability rating.

The key is placing ads above the fold but not so high on the page that the user immediately scrolls it out of view.

Balance Between Content and Ads

For similar reasons, you want to be careful about the balance of page content to ads that are on the page at any one time. Anytime the balance leans too heavily toward ads (e.g. there are too many ads on the screen at a given time and very little page content), users will scroll more quickly to move down toward more of the primary page content.

This means that your ads may be scrolled past so quickly that they don’t stay on the screen for the full second it takes to be registered as viewable. Following these best practices for avoiding ad clutter will help ensure that this doesn’t happen.

On desktop, this particular balance is why medium rectangle units in the sidebar area of the page are so popular. They stay in active view while the user reads the main content to the left side of the ad unit.


On mobile devices in particular, the sweet spot is ensuring that ads take up no more than 30% of the viewport at a given time.


Use Adhesive or Sticky Ads

Simply incorporating more adhesive or sticky ad units will help improve your overall viewability score. These units stay sticky to the side, top or bottom of the users’ screen as they scroll through the content, ensuring the ad remains in view for the entirety of the time the user is viewing the page.


Some of the units with the best ad performance are:

  • Bottom rail (if you currently have a leaderboard that is breaking the “too high on the page” rule above, swapping out for a sticky bottom rail will provide a huge improvement in viewability)
  • Flex leaderboard
  • Left/right rail

-- Article Continues Below --New call-to-action

The Complete Ad Viewability Resource Center

Changing Ad Unit Settings to Improve Viewability

The second category of optimization that can be made are to the settings on ad units themselves. These are much more difficult changes to execute for a few reasons:

  1. They require much more technical knowledge to execute.
  2. Getting the exact balance of settings to maximize revenue is tough and varies heavily on each unit in each place you might use it, so it requires a lot of testing and adjustments to “dial it in.”
  3. Beyond just dialing in the right settings, it is actually more beneficial to adjust the settings based on different factors, essentially creating a unique combination of settings for each viewable ad impression served, meaning there is no way to do it with human or manual control. (Enter AI and machine learning algorithms that can manage things like this).

While they may be difficult to use, understanding what levers you can pull is still very important. Some of the most important settings you can adjust on your ad units themselves include:

Lazy Loading

It may be best to choose and lazy load your ads so that you aren’t loading ads (e.g. making ad calls) until the user scrolls to a place where the ad unit is viewable. This can help to ensure that no ad calls are made when the ad unit is out of view, thus increasing your ad viewability rate.

It is important to note that this is not a blanket recommendation, and sometimes choosing this option can reduce ad revenue without creating a large enough effect on viewability to make it worth it.

So, just please keep in mind that this is something you should test on different ad units and placements, and not consider a standard recommendation across the board.

Refresh Settings

Most ad units will refresh, essentially making a new ad call and replacing the current ad with a newly served ad, after a set amount of time. There are quite a few settings that control the overall refresh behavior of an ad unit, each of which can be changed, tested, and optimized to improve viewability:

  • Time between refreshes
  • Total number of refreshes
  • Refreshing when in view only
  • Refresh on triggers (e.g. user actions and event-driven triggers)
  • And more

These settings are meant to serve the same goal as with lazy loading, helping to control when ad calls are being made to maximize the potential that they are getting that full one second of in-view time.

Like the previous recommendation, the proper settings are maintaining a delicate balance between revenue and viewability, so you should test on different ad units and placements, and not consider any change to these settings a standard recommendation across the board.

-- Article Continues Below --

Ad Viewability Guide

Read The Complete Guide to Ad Viewability for Publishers

Categorizing Inventory to Maximize Value

This is less a strategy for improving viewability, and more of a strategy for increasing the understanding up the ad call chain of the value of the ad inventory you have that is viewable.

Here, grouping your “highly viewable” ad inventory into a category and assigning a key value to it can help to silo your viewable inventory off, allowing you to do interesting things with it.

If you have deep enough relationships with demand partners (typically large-scale ad monetization partners and massive publishers will be the only ones with this kind of sway), you can directly pass this information up the chain to SSPs so that they can value your highly viewable inventory as premium.

While the previous recommendation requires some sway, there are ways to use this inventory categorization as a standalone publisher. As a publisher, you can also use these key values to set unified pricing rules in Google Ad Manager, increasing your price floors on highly viewable inventory to maximize revenue.

Similarly to changing ad unit settings, figuring out exactly how to get your price floor settings for highly viewable inventory perfectly dialed in is a job best suited for AI and machine learning, not human trial and error.


Playwire: Maximizing Publisher Revenue and Viewability

Digging into the minutia of improving viewability is no small undertaking, and it is a game of constant management, not to mention the fact that even accessing viewability measurements requires a pretty hefty technology investment in a tool like MOAT.

If you’re looking for support in finding that perfect balance between maximizing your revenue and viewability, look no further than the team and technology that do this every single day.

Contact Us