Yahoo to Let Brands Fact-Check Its Viewability, Fraud Numbers

ComScore, Moat, DoubleVerify Among Ad-Tech Firms Verifying Yahoo's Figures

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Last year Yahoo began letting some advertisers pay only when someone had a chance to see their desktop banner ad on one of the portal's sites. Now the company will let advertisers check its math.

Advertisers can now use third-party ad-tech firms to track whether ads bought through Yahoo had a chance to be seen and would have been seen by an actual human being.

Brands will be able to use these outside vendors to check the viewability and fraud rates for display and video ads running on Yahoo's own sites, as well as others' sites on which Yahoo runs ads, except for Yahoo's mobile search and "native" ads that are bought through its Gemini mobile ad marketplace.

Even though the third-party viewability and fraud verification program doesn't apply to all the ads that Yahoo sells -- particularly its mobile ads in spite of Yahoo's "mobile-first" strategy -- it is an improvement on Yahoo's existing viewability product Prime View that was introduced last year. While Prime View only charged advertisers when their ads had a chance to be seen, it only applies to desktop display ads on Yahoo's own sites in the U.S. and did not include ads on Tumblr or its "native" Streams Ads that run within its article feeds.

The move to third-party verification brings more transparency to the issues of ad viewability and ad fraud. By addressing advertisers' concerns over whether real people -- as opposed to non-human bots created to mimic a site visit in order to juice traffic stats and ad revenue -- are actually seeing their ads, Yahoo's hope appears to be that adding clarity may give brands comfort that the budgets they're bringing online aren't going to waste.

"The bigger impact ultimately is just bringing more spend, brand spend in particular, into digital," said Yahoo's VP of product management Dennis Buchheim. Of the ads running on Yahoo's sites, 80% of the ads had a chance to be viewed, and less than 2% of the traffic to Yahoo's sites is considered fraudulent, he said.

Ad fraud and ad viewability have become major issues in digital advertising. A study conducted by fraud prevention company White Ops and the Association of National Advertisers estimates that $6.3 billion in ad spend this year will be wasted on ads served to fraudulent traffic. And multiple reports have shown that it's a flip of a coin whether an ad ever comes in view. Google has said that 56% of the web's display ads and 46% of the web's videos ads (excluding YouTube) are never seen.

Those stats and others like them have sent a shock through the advertising industry and made ad viewability a particularly urgent matter since it's the one that publishers can better control. Publishers including Yahoo and Google have responded by embracing a standard that ensures advertisers only pay for an ad if it comes into view on someone's screen and meets certain conditions. According to the Media Rating Council, a display ad must be at least 50% in view for at least one second to be counted as a viewable impression, and video ads must be at least 50% in view for at least two seconds to qualify.

However, while advertisers have applauded publishers' moves toward more viewable ads, major marketers have shown they want to check that the ads they're paying for actually had a chance to be seen, and if they can't, then they'll stop paying.

Kellogg Co. has stopped buying YouTube ads because the Google-owned video service won't let the marketer verify its ads' viewability rates, and an Ad Age top 100 brand has reduced its spending on Facebook ads for the same reason, as Ad Age reported last month.

Advertisers don't want to verify publishers' figures because they think the ad sellers are lying, but because they may have a different way of measuring the stats that can be applied across different publishers to create apples-to-apples comparisons, Kraft Food Group's VP of media, data and CRM Bob Rupczynski recently told Ad Age. Those like-basis comparisons would enable a marketer to determine how to allocate its ad spending by seeing which publishers deliver the most legitimate ad impressions.

Yahoo will allow advertisers to use their chosen verification firms to check its viewability and fraud rates, but the company will first need to approve those outside firms. Other publishers including AOL and Hulu also allow advertisers to bring in outside ad-tech firms to check their viewability math, with the caveat that the companies need to sign off on the outside firms first.

ComScore, DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science and Moat are among the first independent companies that will be able to provide viewability and fraud verification for ads bought through Yahoo.