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Are You Being Underserved? Overcoming Limitations of Ad Servers

Written on
Jan 25, 2012 
Author
Maggie Neuwald  |

ADOTAS - Back in the days when the web was simple (was it ever?), before there were social networks and retargeting, and before Google’s dominance in search, it used to be that a single ad server was more than anyone could hope for in terms of measuring the effectiveness of online marketing.

Indeed, the amount of tracking and accountability made available through ad servers was a major reason for the continued growth of online advertising. Today, as the number of digital marketing channels increases, it becomes clear that tracking a user’s activities across all of them needs to be accounted for. Unfortunately, most advertisers are still combining disparate and incomplete data from multiple channels with no 360 degree view of their customers’ myriad interactions on the web.

While it’s not an amateur task to ensure that you’re optimizing your campaigns on a single channel, imagine how difficult it can be to optimize across multiple channels. And yet, in the coming year, I expect we’ll see more and more advertisers and agencies invest in optimizing their digital strategy across all online touch points and commit to planning their media beyond last-click attribution.

Most advertisers and agencies realize that simple last-click attribution overvalues certain exposures while undervaluing many others. But the full path to conversion data was often not available or it was difficult to determine what to do with it. But seeing this data from one source is even more important now, as the new frontier of digital marketing gives advertisers an ever-growing variety of ways to reach customers, including social networks, online coupons, retargeting, email, paid and natural search, and more. Looking at each channel in isolation leads to over-reporting conversions in aggregate dashboards and makes it hard to understand how each channel worked together to drive a transaction.

We expect this to change, however, as brand advertisers discover that with tag management systems, they can actually see a customer’s full path to purchase. Additionally, an increasing number of partners offers analytics services on top of such data, creating opportunity for more sophisticated analysis of digital marketing spend.

Although for years, ad servers have offered “full-path” reporting, there are still limitations. For example, it may not take into account all of the company’s campaigns, such as email and social media. Many don’t include the full path, only a subset of the most recent events, making it more useful for shorter consideration cycles. Additionally, they can’t necessarily track all the user interactions that may give valuable insight, such as AJAX-based events.

With advertisers looking at where users came from before converting, certain channels have been getting disproportionate credit. In truth, when you track across all channels, you may find that the conversion rate is much higher when combined with other channels. And it might mean that you may re-allocate your budget toward channels that may not drive a lot of clicks, but appear to strongly influence awareness and conversion activity later on, driving more business overall.

From analysis, we’ve conducted with our own clients, we’ve found strong evidence that some channels are often over-valued compared to others, by a considerable margin. This, again, is because of last-click attribution reporting, which leads marketers to believe the last click – usually a paid search listing — is fully responsible for the conversion.

By presenting numbers that show both assisted conversions and attributed conversions (assisted conversions are the number of sales in which a particular campaign appeared somewhere in the path to conversion, which reveals how often that channel plays a part in delivering a sale; attributed conversions are calculated by giving assisted conversions a percentage of the revenue associated with a conversion), credit and reward for any sale is divided between all the channels or campaigns that appeared in the customer journey, and marketers get a much more accurate view of each channel’s influence.

This data also allows marketers to do deeper analysis on which different channels lead to additional types of interactions. For instance, did the customer download a file after they viewed a display ad? Did someone click on a retargeting ad, and then visit a brand’s Facebook page, and then do a search? Did this ultimately result in a sale, or did something else happen along the way?

If you haven’t yet considered investing in full path to conversion data — or even if you have, but are still hesitating on whether the additional data it can yield is valuable — consider that the more accurate reporting you’ll get and the more effective marketing campaigns you’ll plan as a result can generate a quick pay-off in terms of reduced costs and higher conversions.





Maggie Neuwald is vice president of product marketing and partnerships for TagMan. Prior to TagMan, she held various roles in the digital advertising and technology industry. As director of product management for [x+1], she focused on extending the company’s platform beyond real-time bidding to include analytics. Prior to that, she was director of optimization for Yahoo!’s Right Media group, which delivered managed services to top-tier advertisers and agencies. While in that role, she demonstrated a track record for identifying partnership opportunities and leading integrations for brand advertiser services, and gained exposure to myriad companies and technologies in the digital marketing ecosystem. She is a graduate of New York University

Reader Comments.

You tell ‘em Maggie! Just like the old days at Yahoo! I guess talking about attribution 4-5 years ago was too early for its time. :)

Posted by Matt Lillig | 7:48 pm on January 25, 2012.

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