Why Google Should Align with MRC Standards for Measuring Viewable Click-Through Rate (VCTR)

The digital advertising industry has long relied on click-through rate (CTR) as the go-to metric for evaluating ad performance. However, CTR only tells part of the story. Just because an ad is served does not necessarily mean it has the opportunity to make an impression on the user. This is where viewability comes in.

Viewability measures whether an ad had a chance to be seen by a user, based on factors like pixel load and time in view. The Media Rating Council (MRC), the leading industry body for setting advertising measurement standards, defines a viewable display impression as one where at least 50% of the ad‘s pixels are in view for at least one second. For video ads, the threshold is 50% in view for at least two continuous seconds.

Building on this, we have a metric called Viewable Click-Through Rate, or VCTR. VCTR measures the percentage of viewable ad impressions that result in a click. Put simply, it tells you what portion of the ads that had a real opportunity to be seen actually generated a response from users.

Why VCTR is a Superior Metric to CTR

VCTR provides a clearer picture of an ad‘s true performance than CTR alone. Here‘s a hypothetical to illustrate why:

Let‘s say you have two display ad campaigns, each delivering 10,000 impressions.

  • Campaign A has a CTR of 1% (100 clicks / 10,000 impressions), but only 50% of its impressions were viewable. This means its VCTR is actually 2% (100 clicks / 5,000 viewable impressions).

  • Campaign B also has a 1% CTR, but 90% of its impressions were viewable. Its VCTR is 1.11% (100 clicks / 9,000 viewable impressions).

If you were just looking at CTR, you‘d think these campaigns performed equally. But factoring in viewability, it‘s clear that Campaign B delivered better value, generating the same number of clicks from a higher proportion of quality impressions.

This simple example demonstrates why measuring viewability and VCTR is so critical. Advertisers deserve transparency into whether their ads have a real chance to make an impact. Viewability data allows them to optimize their campaigns and spend their budgets more efficiently.

The Importance of MRC Standards for Viewability

The MRC‘s viewability standards provide a common language for the industry. When everyone measures viewability consistently, advertisers can have confidence that a viewable impression on one platform or publisher is equivalent to a viewable impression elsewhere.

This is particularly important in programmatic advertising, where ads are bought and sold across a complex ecosystem of platforms and publishers in real-time. Without shared standards, it would be very difficult to compare viewability and VCTR across different inventory sources.

As the dominant player in the digital ad market, Google has an outsized influence on industry norms. By aligning with MRC standards for viewability measurement, Google can lead the charge in creating a more transparent and accountable ecosystem.

VCTR Benchmarks and Trends

So what‘s a good VCTR? It varies widely based on factors like industry vertical, ad format, device, and placement position. Here are some key benchmarks and trends to be aware of:

VCTR by Industry

According to Google‘s benchmarks, here are the typical VCTR ranges for display ads in different verticals:

Industry VCTR Range
Retail 0.5% – 1.0%
Travel 0.8% – 1.5%
Finance 0.6% – 1.1%
Technology 0.7% – 1.2%
Healthcare 0.7% – 1.3%

Keep in mind these are broad averages. The best way to set VCTR goals is to measure your own performance over time and strive for continuous improvement.

VCTR by Ad Format

Different ad formats tend to have different average VCTRs due to their size, placement, and level of user engagement. A study by Integral Ad Science found the following average VCTRs by format:

Format Average VCTR
Display 0.11%
Rich Media 0.14%
Video 2.24%

Video tends to have significantly higher VCTRs than display formats, likely due to its engaging nature and typical placement in highly viewable locations like pre-roll.

VCTR by Device

User behavior varies significantly across devices, which impacts viewability and VCTR. A study by Meetrics analyzed billions of impressions across 18 countries and found the following discrepancies:

Device Average Viewability Rate Average VCTR
Desktop 65% 0.43%
Mobile Web 56% 0.25%
Mobile App 72% 0.29%

Mobile web lags behind desktop and mobile app in both viewability and VCTR. This is likely due to factors like slower load times, accidental clicks, and rapid scrolling behavior on the mobile web.

The Rising Importance of Audibility for Video Ads

For video ads, viewability is just one part of the equation. Audibility is emerging as another key factor in determining an ad‘s impact. After all, a video ad may be on screen but if the sound is off or the volume is too low, the message may not be conveyed effectively.

The MRC has proposed standards for measuring audible impressions, defined as ones where the ad‘s audio was on and not muted for at least two continuous seconds. Some have suggested that audibility should be a requirement for a video impression to be considered viewable.

While these standards are still evolving, advertisers should start paying attention to audibility metrics alongside viewability for their video campaigns. Platforms like YouTube are starting to provide audibility data in their reporting.

How AI Can Help Optimize for VCTR

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have huge potential to help advertisers optimize for viewability and VCTR. By analyzing massive amounts of impression-level data, AI algorithms can predict which ad placements are most likely to be seen by users.

Some of the signals AI models might look at include:

  • Historical viewability rates for the publisher and placement
  • Page content and layout
  • User scrolling and engagement behavior
  • Time of day and day of week
  • Device and connection speed

Armed with these insights, advertisers can make smarter decisions about where to place their ads to maximize the likelihood of high viewability and VCTR.

AI can also be used to power dynamic creative optimization (DCO). With DCO, the ad creative itself can be automatically tailored based on real-time data signals to improve its relevance and appeal to each user. For example, the images, copy, and call-to-action could be adjusted based on the user‘s demographics, browsing history, device, location, and more.

By delivering more relevant, targeted creative, DCO has been shown to boost ad engagement and VCTR. In a case study by Jivox, an auto brand saw a 2.3X lift in VCTR by using AI-powered DCO compared to their standard ads.

Tips for Publishers to Improve Ad Viewability

While much of the focus around viewability and VCTR optimization falls on advertisers, publishers also have a crucial role to play. After all, it‘s the publisher‘s site design and user experience that ultimately determines an ad‘s potential to be seen.

Here are some steps publishers can take to create more viewable ad inventory:

  1. Prioritize above-the-fold placements – Ads that appear at the top of the page, especially on the first screen view without scrolling, tend to have much higher viewability rates. Reserve these prime locations for your most valuable ad units.

  2. Optimize page load speed – Ads can‘t be seen if they don‘t have a chance to load before the user scrolls away. Streamline your page code, compress images, and use lazy loading to ensure content loads quickly, especially on mobile connections.

  3. Balance content and ads – Pages cluttered with too many ads are a turn-off for users. They‘re more likely to bounce quickly or install ad blockers, hurting viewability. Aim for a clean, unobtrusive ad experience that complements the content.

  4. Test lazy loading for ads – Lazy loading delays loading ads until they‘re about to come into view as the user scrolls down the page. This can improve viewability by not loading ads that are never seen. However, it‘s important to test the impact on overall revenue, as lazy loading may decrease total impressions.

  5. Monitor VCTR by placement – Use your ad platform‘s reporting tools to track VCTR for each ad unit on your site. Identify low performers and experiment with adjusting their size, position, or density to improve viewability.

By taking a proactive approach to creating viewable ad experiences, publishers can make their inventory more attractive to advertisers and potentially command higher CPMs.

The Challenges with Measuring VCTR in Programmatic

While VCTR is a valuable metric, it does come with some challenges, particularly in the programmatic ecosystem. Here are a few of the key issues:

  • Lack of standardization – Despite the MRC‘s guidelines, not all programmatic platforms and publishers measure viewability and VCTR in the same way. This makes it difficult to compare performance across different inventory sources.

  • Discrepancies between measurement vendors – Many advertisers use third-party viewability vendors like IAS or DoubleVerify to verify their buys. However, these vendors‘ numbers often don‘t match the viewability metrics reported by the publisher or ad platform. These discrepancies can lead to disputes over billing and erosion of trust.

  • Fraud and invalid traffic – Viewability measurement can be gamed by fraudulent actors using tactics like pixel stuffing, ad stacking, and invisible ads. This invalid traffic can artificially inflate VCTR without delivering any real value to advertisers. Advertisers need to use fraud detection solutions alongside viewability measurement.

  • Limitations of current technology – Viewability measurement relies on the ability to track user behavior and ad rendering using JavaScript and other browser-based technologies. However, this tracking is becoming harder due to the rise of ad blocking, intelligent tracking prevention (ITP), and other privacy measures. As tracking gets more restricted, viewability measurement may become less reliable.

Despite these challenges, the industry is working towards greater standardization and transparency in programmatic viewability measurement. Initiatives like the IAB Tech Lab‘s Open Measurement SDK aim to create a unified framework for measuring viewability across different platforms and devices.

The Future of Viewability and VCTR

As digital advertising continues to evolve, so too will the standards and technologies for measuring viewability and VCTR. Some of the key trends to watch include:

  • Increased focus on cross-device measurement – With users consuming content across a fragmented landscape of devices and platforms, advertisers need a holistic view of viewability across screens. Expect to see more emphasis on cross-device ad tracking and measurement.

  • Emergence of new viewability metrics – While the MRC‘s current standards focus on display and video ads, new formats like audio ads, AR/VR experiences, and interactive ads may require different viewability criteria. The industry will need to evolve its standards to keep pace with innovation.

  • Greater incorporation of attention metrics – Viewability is a good starting point, but it doesn‘t tell the full story of an ad‘s impact. Metrics like time in view, interaction rate, and audibility provide a richer picture of user attention. Expect to see these engagement metrics become more prominently featured alongside viewability in ad reporting.

  • Advances in AI for predicting and optimizing viewability – As machine learning models become more sophisticated, they‘ll be able to predict viewability with even greater accuracy based on a wider range of data signals. This will enable advertisers to proactively optimize their campaigns for maximum VCTR.

Ultimately, the goal of viewability measurement is to ensure that digital ads have the opportunity to make an impact. By setting clear standards and continually advancing measurement technologies, the industry can create a more transparent, efficient, and effective advertising ecosystem.


Viewable Click-Through Rate (VCTR) is a crucial metric for understanding the true performance of digital ad campaigns. By measuring not just whether an ad was clicked, but whether it had a fair chance to be seen in the first place, VCTR provides a more accurate picture of an ad‘s effectiveness.

However, for VCTR to be meaningful, the industry needs clear and consistent standards for measuring viewability. This is where the Media Rating Council (MRC) and their viewability guidelines come in. By adhering to these shared standards, advertisers, publishers, and platforms can have a common language for evaluating ad inventory quality.

As the dominant player in the digital ad space, Google has a special responsibility to align with MRC standards and push for greater transparency and accountability around viewability. By making VCTR data more accessible and actionable, Google can empower advertisers to make smarter, more efficient decisions with their ad spend.

Looking ahead, AI and machine learning will play an increasingly important role in optimizing campaigns for viewability and VCTR. By analyzing massive amounts of impression data, these technologies can help predict which ad placements are most likely to be seen and engaged with by real human users.

However, challenges remain in standardizing viewability measurement across the complex programmatic ecosystem. Discrepancies between different measurement providers and the ever-present threat of ad fraud can undermine confidence in VCTR data. The industry must continue to collaborate on creating a more transparent and trustworthy measurement framework.

Ultimately, viewability and VCTR are about delivering value to both advertisers and users. By ensuring that ads have a real opportunity to be seen and interacted with, the industry can create a better experience for everyone involved. It‘s a complex challenge, but one that‘s essential to the future of digital advertising.

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