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Attention 101: All About Attention Metrics in Advertising

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Although the “Attention Economics” conversations didn't start today, not much was known about the concept until recently. The central idea about attention economics or attention metrics in advertising is based on how brands can more effectively measure the success of their advertising campaigns using metrics like attention instead of impressions. And as always, the focus is on consumers’ attention: how well are advertisers getting people’s attention in a world where ads constantly bombard us? 

You’re probably thinking that your current measurement metrics like impressions, clicks, and viewability are already doing a good job at helping to measure consumers’ engagement with creatives. However, a served impression only tells you that an ad was loaded and not whether it was viewed or not. And a viewable impression tells you whether someone had the opportunity to view your ad but not if they did or if the interaction was meaningful. So while you can see that your ad was served to your target audience, impressions and other surface metrics fall short as a reliable source for determining if people engaged with your ad and how. 

These limitations are one of the reasons why attention metrics have gained so much popularity. Also driving the popularity of attention metrics is an industry-wide push for measurement tools that go beyond recording ad views and instead focus on whether consumers had an opportunity to absorb the content of the ads they’re seeing.

But is it even possible to measure people’s attention? Let’s find out what measuring attention in an advertising context means.


What Are Attention Metrics?

Attention metrics are ways advertisers measure consumers’ attention to ads and are dependent on what the consumer is viewing and how they view it. Attention metrics are data points brands and advertisers use to model consumer attention to media placements and creatives.

These metrics range from generic proxies, such as viewability, to more specific indicators, like lab-based or panel-based eye-tracking, which records consumers’ actual gaze and focus. Attention metrics revolve around time – focusing on how long a person views an ad or media and, more specifically, the exact actions they took during that period.

In the context of advertising, attention metrics are better than impressions because they provide advertisers and publishers with much more accurate and specific information about how people are interacting with their content. In essence, it is a more reliable measure of the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns. As Google phases out third-party cookies, attention metrics will gain even more relevance in advertising. 


How To Measure Attention?

There are countless ways to measure attention. Attention metrics rely on different data points that are fed into a machine-learning model, which predicts the likelihood that a given media or creative will retain the attention of a hypothetical target viewer. 

The ways by which attention is measured vary depending on factors like the device (platform) on which the content or creative is being viewed, the design of the platform, the content format, the nature of the business, and other things. Essentially, how you measure attention depends on your definition of attention, and is influenced by these factors. Here are some ways to measure attention:


Active Time in View

Active time in view refers to the amount of time a media placement, piece of content,  or ad is viewable in a foreground browser tab. In addition to this, activity can be evaluated to get a more accurate measurement of attention. Activities like the cursor position, touch rate, scroll rate, and scroll depth can all be recorded to know whether people are interacting with the content when it’s in view on the page. 

For example, to measure consumers' attention to video content, advertisers can consider the number of plays to completion instead of just the number of plays. To measure the performance of image assets, advertisers use image-streaming technology with interactive elements that determine the performance of the image. 


Lab-based Research

In this case, a tech company sets up a lab test with a group of volunteer participants who consent to engage with pieces of content, including the publisher’s digital content and ad creative. Eye-tracking and facial coding are the technologies typically used. 

  • Eye-tracking: Attention measurement mostly starts with eye-tracking technology, which tracks the movements of a consumer's eyes or the path of their gaze around the screen. The eye-tracking technology also follows how long they look at an ad or specific part of the screen or page. Today, this is considered one of the most accurate ways to measure attention. 
  • Facial coding: Facial coding uses computer algorithms to automatically measure human emotions by detecting facial expressions. Facial coding technology gives advertisers rich insights into a consumer's emotional response to an ad or piece of content. 


Optimizing for Attention

For brands looking to get more insights into the performance of their ads, attention metrics represent the most accurate way to measure consumers’ engagement and use the information obtained to make decisions. 

Generally, to ensure that your ad and content are optimized to garner higher attention, its important to stay current on consumer behaviors, trends, and the evolution of technology. Other important areas of consideration include the ad size and format, the quality of the page content, and ad creative. 

We can expect that as we fully transition into a cookieless web, attention metrics will become even more important. Hence, the sooner advertisers and publishers begin to implement and measure these metrics, the better they can benefit from them.

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