Pick the Right Metric(s) for the Right Goals
In a new digital world where you have the capability of measuring way more than you ever could (or perhaps ever should!), it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. So start by taking a high-level approach and fist answering the important questions.
- What are you measuring?
- Why are you measuring it?
- Where will you get this data?
If you consider a digital metric to be a lens, then it’s critical to appreciate that not every lens is suitable for use in all contexts. There are no universal KPIs of value. You wouldn’t use a microscope to survey a valley. Nor would you use a telescope to examine a single-celled organism.
The formats, purposes, and goals of a display ad campaign will vary. So, the reporting should align with those 3 variables. If overall brand awareness and recognition is the goal, then the metrics you would use to measure and report on that would be different than those used for a different display campaign promoting a product or service line.
With brand awareness, for example, total Impressions, might make some sense as a metric. Or the number of unique site Placements online. Or, even better, Reach, which measures unique users who saw the ad at least once. This differentiates it from Impressions alone, which includes the same users seeing the same ads multiple times.
However, when it comes to display advertising, transactions or sales data may not be the most meaningful metric. Obviously, it helps when display ads drive conversions, but realistically display ads are often much more important for the top-of-mind awareness that is important at the top of your conversion funnel.
In some cases even more “intermediate” metrics like Clicks or Time Spent on Site might not be particularly indicative of success when it comes to measuring Brand Awareness. In many cases, the most pertinent measurement is assessing how many users within the audience segment you’ve chosen saw the ads, and by extension the brand.
Conversely, if you were running a Remarketing Campaign and leveraging Display networks to reach users who have already visited the site before, then you’ll be looking for more action based user behaviors. Even though transactions and/or sales might be further down the funnel, actions demonstrate interest. This is where click-throughs and onsite engagement metrics like Time Spent on Site, or Pages Visited or suitable Micro-Conversions, like email captures or newsletter signups, would make better sense.
Either way, if bottom-of-funnel metrics, like sales or revenue, are the only metrics used, you might be, to judging a fish by its ability to climb trees . When you align the right metrics to the (well-chosen) goals of a Display campaign, you make it much, much easier to demonstrate performance and value to a client.
What Does Efficient Really Mean?
Another common mistake made in Display reporting is focusing too much on pure “rate” metrics, like click-through rates or conversion rates. This is even more of a mistake when comparing Display rate metrics to rate metrics from other channels. Yes, the click-through rates on Display ads are (somewhat notoriously) low, particularly when compared to paid search ads or even organic search listings.
But there can still be a great deal of value in display ads.
The funnel placements for the users across different channels are completely different. When we are looking at efficiency it’s often best not to just focus on behavioral rates. It’s important to remember that there are also associated costs for those behaviors. In some cases higher click-through rates from other mediums, like paid search ads, also add up to higher costs.
When judging efficiency, it may not be fair, or meaningful, to treat very finite resources (like client budget) the same as less-finite resources (like highly trafficked websites with built in audience segments).
There are instances where you may find that Display ads, priced per mille impressions, despite their seemingly low click-through and conversion rates, might still deliver Cost Per Inquiry/Cost-Per-Leads that are competitive with other channels.
However, as we mentioned, the primary goal of Display campaigns isn’t (likely) to be to secure conversions from a single click. More likely, it’s to drive awareness or to secure micro-conversions or expand the number of additional channels that can be used to further engage the user: email, social, organic search, etc. On this basis, even when Costs-Per-Lead in Display aren’t so comparable, if the goal of the display campaign isn’t even to secure direct conversions, then that metric can inform strategy, but shouldn’t be the end all for assessing the performance of the campaign.
Appreciate the Difference Between Harpoons and Nets
Ok, not to overuse the fishing analogies here but, there are multiple ways to catch a fish.
If you ask a number of anglers you may get very different answers about the best way to catch a fish, but none are clearly better than the others. More often it’s the environment and the range of fish within it that should dictate the fishing method. The same goes for securing a qualified lead or customer online.
Your typical paid search ad running on Google is targeting a user who is already demonstrating a clear intent. Their placement in the conversion funnel is farther down than someone who is NOT demonstrating a clear intent (yet). The ad, in a sense, is a harpoon or a spear – targeting one user at a time with a very specific and honed instrument. The same ad can be used repeatedly for the same intent across multiple users, over and over. If 6 similar fish swam by, and we thrust 4 times and caught 2 of them, it seems like a good day. That is until you realize how dependent you are on fish swimming by in the same spot.
Display and remarketing campaigns, however, work differently. They allow you to target multiple user types who might (later) demonstrate a wider range of intents. Different types of fish in a number of different locations. A variety of Placements in the right audience segments allow you to start identifying a much wider range prospective customers or users before they demonstrate an intent as clear as a Google search. These are deeper and wider waters. But you won’t know as much about who these prospects are until they start engaging more and moving farther down the conversion funnel.
In this sense, the display campaign is better described as a net: you trawl it behind a boat and over time, fish get caught up in it, along with some junk and seaweed. Volume is a must and you accept the junk (and the low CTRs and bogus clicks) because at the end of the day, that’s part and parcel of the tactic. So long as there is fish in the net at the end of it all, and your costs per lead are sustainable, the tactic works.
But it’s at this point where communication and reporting must align to the tactic. Does your client or boss understand the difference between these different tactics and channels? Is your reporting helping them appreciate the differences? Or are they still shaking their head at low click-through rates and wondering if they should shift budget? But that’s where client education comes into play as an important part of every marketer’s job. Sometimes the people we’re working with are fish out of water when it comes to digital metrics and expectations. Sorry, we couldn’t resist. We’re done now.
Display and remarketing campaigns, for better or worse, come with some built-in industry connotations and expectations. Some of the poor performance indicators of the truly worst display campaigns come from a misalignment of goals and the poor choices in specific ad formats or placements. We’ve all seen it. But, even when goals, audiences and formats are aligned, without the right metrics to assess the campaign the evaluation will still be off.
Know what to measure in a specific display campaign and why to create meaningful reports on their performance. Don’t prioritize pure rate metrics for display or unrealistically compare them to other channels’ rate metrics. Finally, know how to communicate the differences between harpoons and nets in order to articulate your purpose and set client expectations. Using this approach, you may find that display serves a vital function in helping your client or brand become more visible, and therefore memorable, to their target audience.