The Future of Measuring Ad Success

The industry is abuzz right now about something that has innocuously resided among us for the past 12 years: the click and its counterpart, the click-through rate. Both have been used as the primary measurement of online ad campaigns since the beginning of online ads, and for much of this time few have thought to question it.

It’s about time we did.

Using Metrics That Don’t Click

If you look at this issue from a position of good judgment and logistical reasoning, the problem quickly becomes apparent. A number of today’s ad campaigns, perhaps even most of the bigger brands’ efforts, don’t have much need for a banner click. I’m talking about the countless interactive video ads, rich media banners that expand to form microsites in-page, and comprehensive branding efforts that occupy (and often enrich) today’s sites.

When we enlist units like these, time spent watching a clip, the number of actions taken within a rollover ad, and the like are the valuable actions. But measuring clicks has become so ingrained in our minds (not to mention our clients’ and sales reps’) that we go out of our way to play them up, however unnecessarily. Planners and creative developers focus on campaign aspects that can be measured this way, and they work tirelessly to drive visits to a brand’s product page or costly microsite when there’s little reason for the users to immediately go there once they’ve interacted with the ad. Heck, even when the metrics that mean something are being tracked and reported on, the click-through can hang like a dark cloud over a campaign, suggesting failure where there very well might only be success.

Evolution Breeds…Stagnation?

It wasn’t always this way. When banners were simply banners, with a few frames of images, messaging, and a call to action, clicks were essential because the ads themselves weren’t designed to deliver information. They were instead meant to entice consumers to take a step toward obtaining it. Look at the units that we favor today and that routinely capture consumers’ attention. We now have the ability to deliver virtually everything we want our target audience to know within the ads themselves. So why are we still agonizing over how many people then visit our sites?

It’s an issue that will take some time for marketers to wrap their heads around on a mass level. If we didn’t know it before, we should all have realized it when Facebook Pages took off. The days when an advertiser’s online image, identity, and message were tied exclusively to his site are over — and with them the communal need to make our sites the center of our online campaigns.

Leaving Impressions

All of this is not to say that impressions and pageviews get off scot-free. Here’s an example of another traditional metric that should be reconsidered.

Knowing what we know about today’s Web sites and the collective (if unspoken) effort to drive up these numbers for their advertisers, we can’t assume that one impression is equal in value to the next. Take a closer look at the structure of the content pages the next time you’re on a site you might consider buying from: there’s a good chance you’ll find articles split into three or four sections, each one existing on a separate site page. While this format can be appealing to site visitors, as it breaks up longer stories into more manageable bites, it smacks of the publisher trying increase ad inventory by boosting page volume.

If you sponsor a section that’s guilty of this approach or your ads are in rotation on a site that employs it, consider the diminished value it gives to your ads. Although many people believe that repeat ad views have more impact on consumers than a single banner viewing, in this context the ads can actually lose impact from a combination of overexposure and banner blindness.

How, then, do we measure campaign success? It comes down to each individual ad unit and promotional tactic employed, and what it’s intended to accomplish. There are times when measuring clicks and impressions still makes sense. In most cases, though, it’s far better to determine what works for each unit and approach placements as their own independent campaigns. Each unit is different, as is each site, so lumping them together into a single category that’s measured by a couple of old-school metrics can’t possibly do your campaigns justice.

It might be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s high time we stopped living in the past.

Meet Tessa at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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