One of the weaknesses in online advertising is whether ads are seen by actual, you know, humans. Google has now acknowledged that more than half of its ads are not on the screen for even one second. The tech giant this week released an infographic, “Five Factors of Viewability,” showing that “many display ads that are served never actually have the opportunity to be seen by a user.” The exact figure: 56.1 percent of all ads the Google and DoubleClick display ad platforms served. comScore has separately estimated that 46 percent of ads are not seen.
Online advertising is a fickle thing. It accounts for 20% of the ad industry’s total spending, and over 90% of revenue for the internet giants Google and Facebook. That said, no one seems to have any idea whether it actually works. That uncertainty reached a new high this week, as Google announced that 56.1% of ads served on the internet are never even “in view”—defined as being on screen for one second or more. That’s a huge number of “impressions” that cost money for advertisers, but are as pointless as a television playing to an empty room. This is not a big revelation. The web metrics company ComScore reported last year that 46% of online ads are never seen. Spider.io, an ad fraud company acquired by Google in February, has pointed out that a large portion of ads are “viewed” only by robots, revealing that one botnet of 120,000 virus-infected computers viewed ads billions of times, running up the tab for advertisers without offering them the human eyeballs they sought.