How to Measure Online Advertising Success

I am amazed at how companies spend millions of dollars on online advertising but none to actually measure if it was successful or not. I have come across several companies in past few years so thought I will share my 10 step process to measuring the success and ultimately improving the ROI.

Below are two eye-opener real life examples that will show why I thought this was a subject that I should blog about:

  • A customer spent 8 million on a huge online campaign but had not clue weather they were getting their money’s worth or not. All they got was banner impressions and initial click through rate (CTR ) from their agency. This initial CTR was in line with what their agency had expected so they were contended with the results. As far as measuring beyond the initial CTR they had no idea. Their answer was that we do not sell anything so we can not see if this is generating money or not, all we need to do it generate brand awareness. Well were they generating brand awareness? In few minutes we were able to see that that they had 90% bounce rate (yes they had WA tool implemented but were not looking at it, yah I know what you are thinking). That is 90% of the money down the drain. It is true that everybody who gets to the site has been exposed to the brand but is that enough? 90% bounce rate was pretty substantial considering that initial click through was close to 1%. I don’t think they were able to generate brand awareness.
  • Another customer spent about 4 million on an online campaign but was very stingy when it came to using web analytics tool on their site to measure the success. Not sure if the marketing manger was not comfortable with the result that she would get or just did not consider it worthwhile to measure because she had extra money to spend.

Does this sound familiar? If yes and you are marketing manger or marketing exec, I would strongly suggest putting some money aside for measuring your campaigns performance beyond the initial CTR. You will be able to learn a lot more about how your campaign is performing and improve your ROI by simple A/B testing. If you are an analyst then please work with the marketing department and sell them the benefits of measurement.
Below are my 10 steps for measuring the online advertising success, nothing fancy, a simple straight forward process that will improve your bottom line.

  1. Determine the goals and objectives of your campaign. – Knowing why you are running the campaign is first and foremost step. Unless you know why you are running the campaign you will never know if was successful or not. Marketing manager and web analyst should be in sync on this. Infect all the stakeholder should be on the same page. A clear understanding of the goals helps everybody focus on same things.
  2. Determine success criteria and KPI’s for your online campaign. – Once you know the goals of the campaign, next step is to determine the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the campaigns. These key metrics will allow you to see how the campaign is performing. If you already have a baseline measures from your previous campaign then you can compare your metrics against them or if you don’t have one then within weeks or a months (depending on the duration of the campaign) you should be able to develop one.
  3. Create a campaign attributes framework – It is very important to build a campaign attributes framework from the beginning. Deciding what attributes to measure the campaign against early on will make sure you capture them from the beginning. Also upfront thinking will allow you to get a buy-in from agency, as most likely they will be responsible to for providing you with all the campaign attributes. Some examples of the attributes are placement, creative, message, publisher.
  4. Implement proper web analytics tracking code on your site and landing page(s) – After you have the framework in place and know which metrics to capture, next step is to get together with you implementation team to implement proper tracking code on the landing pages and site. As you already know if the tracking codes are not implemented properly you will not be able to track your campaigns. I suggest running a test before you go live, so that you can resolve any issues upfront else it will be too late.
  5. Configure web analytics tool to measure your KPIs – Another area to pay close attention to is tool configuration. Too many times I have seen disconnect where KPIs are determined but the tool configuration is so messed up that you can not measure anything. Determine what reports you will need and how they will be configured. Work with your implementation team; make sure they understand the goals and what you are trying to measure. I was recently involved with a campaign measurement configuration where we had to reanalyze the data because the implementation guy messed up one configuration. Luckily point no.4 above was correct so all the data was there it just had to be reanalyzed. Pay extra attention.
  6. Tip – Configuration of the tools (reports) should be such that you can compare overall user (or user driven organically) with those driven by the campaign. I have found that this kind of insight helps you better understand your visitors and determine where you should be spending your money and effort. The more you can segment your user base the better insight you will get.

  7. Build a scorecard or dashboard that will allow stakeholders to focus on the KPIs – The temptation by stakeholders is to look at every single data point weather they understand the impact of those or not. I have been in meetings were they will try to argue on things that don’t even matter. Why? Because they had access to the data and like to argue. The scorecard or dashboard should allow them to focus on things that matter instead of every data element that a web analytics tool can provide.
  8. Tag all your ads with appropriate campaign identifiers – You have determined the KPIs, setup the reports and a nice scorecard is waiting for the data and analysis, but guess what? The agency did not add the proper campaign identifier. All your efforts are down the drain. The problem occurs because people setting up the campaigns in ad servers have zillion other things to worry about and if they are not ingrained in the process they will forget or won’t give due attention to campaign tracking. As I mentioned above in point number 3, if you create the attribute framework and involve the agency then this should not be an issue.
  9. Analyze the data in few hours of launching the campaign, fill the scorecard and learn from the data. Few hours might be too early to learning anything meaningful (depending on the magnitude of the campaign) but can show you if something is really screwed up. Tune as necessary.
  10. Periodic reporting and analysis (will depended on the length of campaign but start with daily then weekly/monthly). – Periodic reporting and analysis is an important aspect of this process, this is where you will actually know if the campaign is achieving its goals or are there things that should be changed. Don’t stop at reporting only analyze the data (see my article titled Are you doing Web Reporting or Web Analytics. Provide actionable recommendations. Provide your analysis back to the stakeholder. Discuss them, debate them and determine what to test. (I am not going to go in detail on A/B or multivariate testing in this article)
  11. Put this process in place and share with all the stakeholders. Buy-in from all the stakeholders is necessary for any process to work. Put some timelines so that key stakeholder can be involved in the process in timely fashion.

The above process will help you measure the true success of your campaigns. Learn from the data and optimize as necessary. Remember there is always room some for incremental improvement. You will be amazed how you can improve your ROI by following above 10 steps.

Contributed by Anil Batra: 10 steps for measuring online advertising success – Web Analytics, Behavioral Targeting and Optimization by Anil Batra

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