Thought Catalog’s sticky ads increased viewability by 25 percent

With ad buyers pushing to ensure digital ads are viewed by humans, publishers have had to adapt.

To increase its viewability scores, Thought Catalog last month stuck ad units on its homepage that stick to the side of the browser window as the user scrolls. Static display ads on the home page had been about 70 percent viewable. With the sticky ads, viewability shot up to over 95 percent, according to Cristina Calderin, Thought Catalog’s director of accounts and ad operations. The publisher is now working on putting the sticky ads within articles.

“Our readers tend to scroll quite quickly, so we are implementing technology where [the ad] hangs with you so that is in view for that full second and gets counted as viewable,” she said.

Viewability has become a du jour topic at industry events now that major agencies like GroupM demand 100 percent in-view impressions. And comScore’s announcement of a new viewability product yesterday suggests that more digital advertising will be bought using viewability metrics, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser wrote in a report.

With stricter standards, less inventory will meet buyers’ thresholds. To make up for lost impressions, Thought Catalog — a lifestyle and entertainment website for millennials that publishes articles like “21 Signs You’re A Boss Bitch Who Takes No Shit” and “33 Ways Your Boyfriend Is Micro-Cheating (And Totally Getting Away With It)” — has been able to increase the CPMs for its highly viewable ads by about 30 percent, though Calderin declined to provide raw numbers.

The trick with viewability is that the demand for better scores has inadvertently increased ad clutter and ad blocking. Calderin said Thought Catalog’s sticky units haven’t existed long enough to tell whether they drove users to ad block, but she’s mindful of the need to balance viewability with the user experience. 

“Our biggest concern is that the pages look beautiful and have a big focus on the [editorial] content,” Calderin said. “We don’t want to bombard users with ads or make them annoying. It is a tricky situation.”

She argued that Thought Catalog is less susceptible than many publishers to ad blocking since 70 percent of the company’s 32 million unique visitors came on mobile devices, and ad blocking is largely a desktop phenomenon. (ComScore estimates Thought Catalog had 21 million visitors in March, 88 percent of whom came from mobile.) Calderin said fewer than 5 percent of Thought Catalog’s entire audience is blocking ads, which is well below the nearly 30 percent user penetration in the U.S. marketplace.

Thought Catalog uses Google’s viewability scores, but Calderin said the numbers don’t differ much across vendors like Moat and Integral Ad Science. Multiple measurement firms declined to provide Thought Catalog’s viewability numbers.

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