YouTube TrueView Ad Specs & Everything Else You Need To Know

by | Nov 6, 2019 | Education

YouTube TrueView Ad Specs Feature Image

YouTube TrueView ads serve a special purpose in modern video advertising due to its unique pricing model and targeting capabilities. More than most other ad types, TrueView ads are versatile and effective across the marketing and sales funnel

As you set up your YouTube TrueView campaign, it’s not enough to just know the ad specs, you need to understand the ins and outs of what makes this format special. 

Jump to YouTube TrueView Ad Specs →


What are YouTube TrueView ads? 

YouTube TrueView ads are video ads run on YouTube that give viewers the ability to interact with and control the ads they see. 

In other words, viewers can choose to watch your ad or not. The kicker is that you don’t pay for TrueView ads unless a user watches it (at least 30 seconds) or interacts with it. 

The overall goal of TrueView is to combine the awareness strength of video advertising with action-driving potential of direct response advertising. 

When implemented well, TrueView ads can provide insight into your the effectiveness of your message and drive brand awareness without breaking the bank.

TrueView ads are divided into two formats: in-stream ads and discovery ads.

What are YouTube TrueView in-stream video ads?

In-stream video ads appear within the stream of the video users are there to watch, either before, during or after the video content. 

Five seconds after the in-stream ad starts, a “Skip Ad >” button will appear, which allows users to skip your ad if they want.

Viewers can interact with in-stream video ads by clicking on the ad itself or clicking CTA (call to action) button overlay to visit your site. 

In addition to the in-stream video ad itself, you can also run cards and companion banners on the watch page. 

TrueView Cards

Cards appear within a video and are overlaid boxes with links to just about anything. You can add a card pointing the audience to another video (or playlist or channel), you can create a poll, solicit donations and more. 

Cards can appear on both desktop and mobile devices, and depending on the type of card you add, it can include a custom image, CTA and title.

You control on a per-video basis when, where and how long a teaser for your card appears. It could be at three seconds in to nab your audience before they skip or it could be towards the end and focus on engaging your already captive audience.

When the card teaser is not visible, an icon appears which viewers can hover over and click to browse all cards placed in the video.

When used in TrueView in-stream ads, cards are particularly useful for showcasing features and promoting your channel or other videos to keep your audience engaged with your video content. 

TrueView Companion Ads

Companion ads appear as a clickable thumbnail image and/or a banner on the watch page. They provide a continued, clickable presence on the page after a viewer finishes or skips your in-stream video ad.

Companion ads only appear on a desktop watch page in the top right corner. They can be auto-generated using the thumbnail from your video and information on your YouTube channel.

Here’s an example of an auto-generated companion ad:

TrueView in-stream companion ads sync up and bolster the message of the video ad, even if viewers skip it.


What are YouTube TrueView video discovery ads?

TrueView discovery ads, which are also occasionally called in-display ads, appear as thumbnails that link to a video on your channel. They populate in YouTube searches, on the mobile YouTube homepage, on watch pages alongside videos, and on websites within the Google Display Network (which we’ll get into below). 

In search results, the TrueView discovery ad will appear above the organic search results. There can be multiple TrueView discovery ads on one YouTube search page, and the top ranked ad may occasionally repeat below the organic results.

On the mobile homepage, discovery ads can appear alongside other videos on days that the mobile video masthead has not been sold.

On watch pages, discovery ads appear either at the top of the related video section or as an overlay of the video. Overlays will only include the title of the video, a short description and a URL.

Discovery ads function similarly to display ads, but follow the TrueView pricing model of only paying when a user interacts. This ensures those who click your ad are invested in learning more about your brand.


When do I pay for YouTube TrueView ads?

TrueView ads are bought on a CPV basis, with a $0.01 minimum per view. In Display & Video 360 (DV360) and Google Ads (which are two platforms where TrueView campaigns can be built and executed) you choose what you’d like to pay for each view.

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Nuance Note

Wait DV360? What about Google Ads? What about Adwords? 

It’s complicated but here are the broad strokes:

Adwords is now Google Ads. You can use either the DV360 platform or the Google Ads platform to build, run and report on ad campaigns. Since rebranding from Adwords, Google Ads seems to be “preferred” by Google because it receives more betas (i.e., cutting edge tools).

The gist is that DV360 has a more cohesive tech stack and keeps your data centralized. Google Ads can be cheaper and have more bells and whistles, but can be a chore to migrate to. 

There’s a lot to go into, and this article gives a decent high level overview. Most of what we cover here is applicable to both DV360 and Google Ads, with a slight preference to DV360.

Alright, let’s break that down in human terms:

When you run TrueView ads, you only pay when one of three criteria are met:

  1. The viewer watches the ad in its entirety without skipping.
  2. The viewer watches at least 30 seconds of the ad before skipping.
  3. The viewer clicks through on the ad.

If none of these criteria are met, you are not charged for the impression. That means you are not charged if the viewer skips your in-stream ad and you are not charged if the viewer doesn’t click on your discovery ad. 

This approach can be summed up as a cost per view (CPV) pricing model, where you only pay if your ad is viewed or interacted with. 

In a lot of ways, TrueView is the poster child for the CPV pricing model. Other companies are tinkering around with it, but as of today, TrueView is the where is stands out.

When applied to your budget and marketing strategy, CPV differs from other pricing models because it essentially makes impressions cheaper. The people who skip your ad are still exposed to your message and you don’t have to pay a dime. 


Where will my YouTube TrueView ads be seen?

Obviously, YouTube TrueView ads will run on YouTube. But you also have the option to run your ads on the Google Display Network (GDN). 

GDN is a collection of sites and mobile apps that Google trusts to have the same standard of brand safety as YouTube (we get into the details of how to do this in the following section).

In addition to these two options, your TrueView ad may appear on YouTube videos that are embedded on other sites or mobile apps that can fall outside of GDN. 

The gist is: don’t be limited by the notion that TrueView ads have to only run on YouTube alone. They can appear on other sites and mobile apps as well and you need to take that into account when building your video campaign.


What targeting methods can be used with YouTube TrueView ads?

DV360 offers three levels in which you can establish your TrueView targeting strategies: by advertiser, by line item or by ad group.

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Terminology Note

If you’re an avid LumenAd content reader (which I’m sure you are!), you may notice some similar terminology with slightly different definitions. For a rundown of how LumenAd refers to and synthesizes each level of advertising, check out our advertising Campaign Architecture blog post.

In this TrueView article, we’re using the “Advertiser,” “Line Item” and “Ad Group” terms as Google does.

By Advertiser

At this level, all changes apply to the levels contained within the Advertiser level. In other words, changes made here will apply to the Line Item and Ad Group levels. 

The Advertiser level is mostly focused on exclusions. You can exclude content labels and content categories, create a blacklist channel and more. 

You’re allowed to enter up to 65,000 YouTube URLs you’d like to exclude. You can also exclude at the Ad Group level, so if there are any nuances you might want to save them for that level  — you won’t be able to include any placements you’ve excluded at the Advertiser Level.

By Line Item

All targeting applied at the Line Item level is applied to each Ad Group in contains. Line Item targeting is best kept general — you can get specific at the Ad Group level. 

Inventory sources at the Line Item level are split into two categories: YouTube Search (i.e., search result pages) and YouTube Videos (i.e. watch pages and in-stream ad). 

If you choose the YouTube Videos option you then have the option to “Include video partners,” which lets your ad appear on mobile apps and websites that follow the same brand safety standards as YouTube.

After that, you have the option to exclude certain content categories that you don’t want your brand associated with. You can also select the language, geography, day and time, and type of device on which your ad is shown.

By Ad Group

The Ad Group level is where you can start to get specific. You can select keywords, more specific content categories and more. 

Two of the most important options are Placements and Audience. Placement types you can choose from include: 

  • Individual channels
  • Individual videos
  • Popular content
  • Specific URLs
  • Apps (if you’re using video partners)
  • Collections, which are curated groups of mobile apps

Audience options include:

  • First-party data (great for remarketing campaigns)
  • Affinity and in-market audiences (audience deemed likely to be interested in your brand)
  • Life events (e.g., graduation, moving, marriage)
  • Custom affinity


What are the TrueView reporting metrics and dimensions?

When approaching TrueView reports, there are two aspects to keep in mind: metrics (i.e. numbers like ratios, averages, etc.) and dimensions (i.e., attributes like the viewer’s demographics, geography, actions taken, etc.). 

 There are a lot and it’s worth it to take the time to review each so you can fully understand the impact of your TrueView campaigns. 

To view list of TrueView reporting dimensions, click here and narrow by “TrueView” drop-down menu.

To view list of TrueView reporting metrics, click here and narrow by “TrueView” in the drop-down menu.

 So, what’s the TL;DR? Well there a few choice metrics to keep an eye out for when running TrueView campaigns to determine if they’re working:

  • Retention Rate: how long viewers watched your ad.
  • View Through Rate: percentage of people choosing to watch your ad

Others to keep an eye on are reach, click-through rates, ad recall, brand awareness, favorability and brand lift (which we get into below in the marketing strategy section).


What about bumper ads and in-video overlay ads?

Bumper ads are six-second non-skippable video ads run on YouTube. They are not considered TrueView ads because they do not give viewers the power to control the ads they see and are therefore charged on a different basis. 

Because bumper ads are too short for viewers to skip, they’re charged on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) pricing model. 

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What Do I Need to Know About Bumper Ads?

The difference between six-second bumper ads and YouTube TrueView ads is that six-second ads are… six seconds long. Big surprise, right? 

Six seconds isn’t very long, so only use this inventory if your video campaign is built around this time limit. That said, this time limit leads to very impactful brand awareness ads if your message is unique, engaging and to the point.

In-video overlay ads are small ads that pop at the bottom of the video while it’s playing. You can exit out of the ad by clicking the “X” at the top right corner. They can also have companion ads on the watch page, like in-stream TrueView ads. 

These ads are not TrueView ads because they are bought on a CPM basis and are only available for reservation sponsorship campaigns. In other words, as of the writing of this article, in-video overlay ads have to be bought through a Google representative. 

Where do TrueView ads fit within digital marketing strategies?

TrueView ads are an incredible tool for brands looking to increase brand awareness and drive conversions across devices without spending a ton of money. 

Marketing/Sales Funnel Fit

In addition to their top-funnel appeal, TrueView ads can provide quite a bit of insight to mid and bottom-funnel initiatives by identifying what your potential customers want to watch and interact with.

TrueView’s CPV basis will make it easy to optimize toward engagement because (as we outlined above) the main thing CPV measures is the engagement level of your audience. For remarketing strategies, TrueView is a great option depending on your goal and the display campaigns you’re running alongside.

If your desired action is an increase in subscribers to your YouTube channel, TrueView makes for a great bottom-funnel strategy using conversion tracking. The cards functionality is also fantastic for exhibiting and selling products and merchandise.

Even if you don’t drive engagement or conversion every time, you’re still getting exposure to an audience that is very likely to be receptive to your message thanks to TrueView’s targeting capabilities.

Messaging Optimization & Brand Lift

If you end up spending a lot on TrueView ads, it’s a strong indication that you have a message that resonates with your audience. 

This kind of relationship with your audience will have wide ranging brand health implications and can provide significant brand lift. 

Google puts it this way: People who choose to watch your ad are 10x more likely to share your content, subscribe to your channel or engage with your brand.

TrueView ads, when done right, are designed to find the people who want to watch and interact with your ad.

Thanks to this, Google also says that:

65% of TrueView ad campaigns raised brand interest.

TrueView not only gives your brand the tools to hone its messaging it can be a significant driver of brand lift.


The Larger Industry Landscape

In the larger emerging landscape of digital video advertising, TrueView ads provide solutions for many of the same pain points Advanced TV and its sub-category Connected TV.

  1. We live in an increasingly mobile world — 42% of total time online is spent online is spent on mobile devices. For YouTube, the share is way more intense: in 2017, 70% of YouTube traffic came from mobile devices. TrueView ads can serve on both desktop and mobile devices.


  2. Second-screen viewing (i.e., scrolling through your phone while watching Netflix) is on the rise: 45% of people often or always use devices while watching TV. TrueView is one way to nab a portion of this audience.


  3. Cord-cutting is reshaping video advertising: as of 2019, 59% of americans have stopped using cable/satellite and another 29% are considering stopping. YouTube is one of the main drivers of this trend alongside Netflix and Hulu, to the point where it’s beyond just a social media platform.

The point is: you need your video ads to match the user behavior of your audience. TrueView ads do just that in a relatively cost-effective way. 

YouTube TrueView ad specs:

TrueView In-Stream Video Ad Specs

Video: Must be uploaded to YouTube

Requirements: Video must allow embedding, it must be public or unlisted and true streaming is not allowed.

Minimum Video Length: Any length, at least 12 seconds is recommended

Maximum Video Length: Any length, less than 3 minutes recommended

File Format: AVI, ASF, Quicktime, Windows Media, MP4, or MPEG

Resolution: 640×360 (16:9) or 480×360 (4:3) recommended

Frame Rate: 30 FPS

Maximum File Size: 1 GB

URLs Required: A Display URL (the url that is shown in the ad) and a Final URL (your website or channel URL you’d like to drive viewers to).

CTA ButtonText: 10 characters

CTA Button Headline: 15 characters


TrueView In-Stream Video Companion Ad Specs

Resolution: 300×60

Maximum File Size: 150 KB

Must Meet: Google’s image ad requirements.

TrueView Video Discovery Ad Specs (a.k.a. TrueView In-Display Ad Specs)

Video: Must be uploaded to YouTube.

Video File Format: AVI, ASF, Quicktime, Windows Media, MP4, or MPEG

Preferred Video Codec: H.264, MPEG-2, or MPEG-4

Preferred Audio Codec: MP3 or AAC

Resolution: 640×360 (16:9) or 480×360 (4:3) recommended

Frame Rate: 30 FPS

Aspect Ratio: Native aspect ratio without letter-boxing (examples: 4:3, 16:9)

Video Maximum File Size: 1 GB

Image: Choose from 4 auto-generated thumbnails

Headline Text: 25 characters max

Description: Two lines, 35 characters max each

For more guides like this subscribe below. If you’d like to get a YouTube TrueView campaign off the ground, schedule a demo and we’ll get things rolling.

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