Quantifying the Pass-Along Value of Online Advertising

Most media planners and buyers intuitively know that the ad placements they plan and purchase for their advertisers have a ripple effect. A user who may click on an ad ends up passing along the link to the destination page to other users who’ve never viewed the ad. This sharing of links generates an X factor of pass-along value to the advertiser that — to this point — really hasn’t been easy to quantify. Now a new company, Meteor Solutions, has developed a technology platform that allows media teams to connect the performance of paid media with the “organic lift” that occurs by word-of-mouth.

How Meteor Works

Meteor Solution’s Tracker technology initially works like many ad-tracking solutions: some lines of JavaScript must be inserted on the campaign’s destination page and other script must be inserted on the conversion confirmation page. When a user clicks on an ad and arrives at the destination page, via a cookie, she’s assigned a unique ID. That ID is also appended to the destination URL. If that user bookmarks that URL or shares it with friends by e-mailing it, copying and pasting it, blogging about it, tagging it, or posting it in a social community, visits to the appended URL will be tracked by Meteor. URL shorteners, commonly now used by Twitterers, and other tracking scripts like Web analytics or ad tracking solutions, do not impose upon Meteor’s tracking.

Because of the cookie, Meteor can identify that a visitor to the appended URL is not the original visitor. This second visitor is cookied and assigned another new unique ID and appended URL — and so on and so on for each new visitor to the site.

Conversion actions generated by these shared URLs are also tracked. Meteor then generates “sharing graphs” from these visits and conversions in a dashboard.

Meteor sharing graphs
click to enlarge

Meteor Tracker can help shed light on some of the unaccountable “no referrer” source in Web analytics that typically dominates all sources. Meteor has found that approximately 20 percent of inbound no referrer traffic actually comes from shared links.

Implications for Media Planners

Agencies can utilize Meteor Tracker in a number of ways:

  • Placement justification. Meteor Tracker traces back to the original ad unit and publisher source. Although Publisher B’s ad might be more expensive than Publisher A’s, if an ad on Publisher B’s site proves to generate more direct and shared traffic altogether, the media planner can better justify the more expensive buy.
  • Fine-tune planning for campaign objectives. Having a way to track the campaign’s pass-along value helps the media planner better estimate how many impressions she really needs to buy in order to generate the target quantity of visitors. It might also mean that the planner can accomplish the objectives while spending less for the advertiser, which in these times advertisers welcome.
  • Value for brand and direct response advertisers alike. Meteor’s solution can provide value for any kind of advertiser. The more likely the audience is to share information — which goes for B2B (define) and CPGs (define)alike — the more valuable tracking this information becomes.
  • Improved conversion measurement. Not only does Meteor Tracking now provide a way to track the lift in conversions originated from ad campaigns via shared links, but there is also information to suggest that shared links convert four times more than unshared ones. So, now sharing can be freely encouraged and attribution can be given to the ad campaign.
  • Creative testing. If Ad A generates slightly higher click-thru rates but Ad B ends up generating significantly more shared URLs, this shakes up the way to judge the ads’ performance. The planner might suggest a creative test such as this before a full-blown campaign launch to help optimize the campaign from the get-go.
  • Greater emphasis on the landing page. Meteor has found a vast disparity in the amount of traffic driven to a site by shared links. Some sites generate as much as half their traffic from shared links while shared traffic on other sites represents only a few percentage points. Users tend to share URLs based on the value of the page’s content. If sharing represents a campaign objective, the creative team needs to really ratchet up the quality and content of the landing page.

In a time when advertisers want to see their ad dollars being put to the most effective use, Meteor’s solution can help give media planners an edge.

Hollis is off today. This column was originally published Feb. 10, 2009 on ClickZ.

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