Facebook Says Advertisers Should Only Pay For Ads That Actually Get Seen

Here’s a crazy idea: Online ads are only worthwhile if they’re actually seen by human eyes.

Actually, that might seem pretty obvious, but even though there have been efforts to move in this direction, the industry has historically focused on ads served. That means they’re counted even if they’re at the bottom of a web page and no one scrolls down to see them.

Facebook laid out its position on the issue in a new blog post titled “The Value of Viewed Impressions,” which makes two main points — that advertisers should focus on viewed impressions, not served impressions, and that Facebook already works this way.

“We measure an ad impression the moment an ad enters the screen of a desktop browser or mobile app,” the company writes. “If an ad doesn’t enter the screen, we don’t count it as an ad impression.”

Now, when we talk about Facebook advertising, we’re talking about a few different things — there are the ads on Facebook itself, and then there’s the broader ad platform that the company is building, particularly its Audience Network and the relaunched Atlas, which basically bring Facebook ads and ad tech to outside websites and mobile apps.

Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s vice president of measurement and insights, told me that when the company is talking about ad measurement, it’s really talking about Facebook and Instagram. For Atlas and the Audience Network, they have to work with publishers’ existing practices, but he added, “From a strategy perspective, Facebook … is focused on this viewable standard.”

If this isn’t a new practice on Facebook’s part (“This is the way Facebook’s ad server has worked for some time now,” Smallwood told me), why bring it up today? Smallwood said the company is trying to “push the industry towards this concept of viewed impressions instead of served impressions.” Plus, it’s a good way to suggest that Facebook’s ad impressions may be a bit more valuable, since people actually see them.

The company has an advantage on this front, since many of its ads run in its newsfeed, so you’re more likely to scroll past it as you move down the feed. Smallwood argued that if you scroll past an ad, even if you don’t interact with it in, you still saw it, and it still moved whatever’s being advertised to your “top of mind.” (Facebook is also expanding its tools for measuring when ad impressions lead to online and offline sales.)

Smallwood also suggested that Facebook has a unique perspective in a couple of other ways, namely its preponderance of ad revenue from mobile, and the fact that it’s applying its standards for viewable impressions globally.

Facebook’s blog posts highlights a few partners that Facebook is working with on these fronts, including the Media Rating Council (the group that establishes the standards around ad measurement), The Wendy’s Company (yep, that Wendy’s), and ad agency Zenith Optimedia.