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Yahoo graciously offers to stop ripping off some advertisers

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Yahoo will stop charging advertisers for online display ads that fail to display on the audience's computer screens, Advertising Age reported June 25. This is a big deal, but nowhere near as big as it may sound.

Yahoo giveth

Up until now, most of the ad dollars that marketers have been paying Yahoo for display space have been, in effect ripped off, because a majority of display ads simply haven't been displaying – at least not where anyone can see them.

ComScore analytics conducted from May, 2012, through February, 2013, showed that a majority of online display ads – 54 percent, to be specific – "do not have the ability to be seen by the consumer."

Sometimes the ads, or the entire web pages they're supposed to appear on, don't even load.

Sometimes the ads do appear, but so far down, you have to practically scroll all the way down to China to see them – and most website visitors don't, because they still can't be bothered scrolling down even a little below the fold.

The main place those ads show up is on advertisers' media bills.

Yahoo's new Prime View offering, Ad Age says, "is moving to give some of its advertisers their money's worth, by charging only only for display ads that actually come into view on someone's computer screen, according to the company." Actually getting what you're paying for; how 'bout that?

But like those inflated advertising bills, there's somewhat less to this than actually meets the eye.

Yahoo taketh away

Part of that is because of the presence of a little, four-letter weasel word – "some," not all, advertisers

Advertisers who buy online space only directly from Yahoo sales teams, not "third-party sites that use Yahoo's ad technology to sell ads," for example

And advertisers who buy only US campaigns. As far as the rest of the world that Yahoo advertising reaches, fugeddaboutit.

And among advertisers who buy directly from Yahoo and only for US use, Ad Age notes, "advertisers will be limited by what inventory Yahoo is making available for these viewable impression-only deals."

That limited inventory comprises what Ad Age says are "Yahoo sites' premium desktop ads served in the U.S."

"Premium" means more expensive, as Yahoo vp-product management for advertising products Eric Lange admitted, telling Ad Age that "Yahoo's view-guaranteed impressions will...cost more than standard impressions." Depending on how much more, you could end up paying as much for ads that consumers are guaranteed to see as for an ad buy where only 46 percent can see your ads and 54 percent can't.

"Desktop" means no Prime View guarantee for display ads on Yahoo's smartphone or tablet properties, which, according to CEO Marissa Mayer, will soon account for most of Yahoo's traffic.

And "ads" means you can't get this wonderfully generous feature for Tumblr ads or for "native" advertising – i.e., ads sneakily disguised as genuine content on Yahoo's article feeds.

Oh, and you'll have to buy upfront.

Such a deal.

Helping advertisers or helping themselves?

What advertisers who can work within all these limitations get is a guaranteed number of ad impressions that meet the Media Ratings Council's new viewable impression standard. This standard says that if at least half of your display ad appears on a screen for all of one full second, that counts as a valid, billable, viewed impression. Of course, if a consumer happens to blink during the second that half of your ad appears, he or she will totally miss it. (But you'll still pay for the impression.)

In comparison to some competitors, Yahoo's a few years late and more than a few dollars short. "[T]he viewability product Google introduced two years ago works across the more than 2 million sites in its display network," writes Ad Age, "and does not require an advertiser to purchase the ads on a reserved, or upfront, basis." Hmmm.

Yahoo's burst of largesse may conceivably designed less to help advertisers than to help Yahoo reverse five straight quarters of year-to-year revenue declines, followed by a flat first quarter this year. "If all Yahoo inventory was available through Prime View and if hypothetically roughly half of Yahoo's ads go unviewed, in keeping with ComScore's industry-wide figure, then Yahoo would risk sacrificing a significant chunk of its display ad revenue," says Ad Age. So by opening only a limited part of its inventory to Prime View and charging more for it, the main beneficiary of Yahoo's generosity may be its own revenue stream.

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