Successful Programmatic Advertising Measurement: Moving Beyond Vanity Metrics

Jess Ostrom

Ad optimization techniques and the goals tied to them have evolved exponentially in the past five years. When online and digital ads launched, interactions with the ad were one of the only ways marketers could track the success of their campaigns. New site tagging technology and advanced analytics allow advertisers deep insights into the actions a user takes after being served an ad. Now, our data points provide more and more levers to pull outside of what ad goes where. 

Unfortunately, many programmatic advertisers have yet to catch up to these expanded opportunities and still report on off-site vanity metrics that do not tell the whole story.

🛋 Case Study: Large Furniture Retailer

Vanity Metric: A large furniture retailer has run Online Video campaigns optimizing towards Video Completion Rate (VCR). Every campaign hit or surpassed the goal for VCR. This goal, however, provided little context for the number of sales that resulted in these campaigns. 

Our Strategic Approach: Over time, KORTX helped this client implement on-site tags measuring site activities, including purchases and purchase revenue. We continued optimizing toward VCR, but we were able to measure and attribute a positive ROAS. Knowing what we know about vanity metrics and through strategizing with the client, we decided to run a test campaign without the VCR threshold in place as the ad optimization goal. 

Result: By removing the VCR goal, the algorithm could prioritize delivery to the brand’s target audience regardless of the potential VCR outcome, expanding their pool of potential site-side converters. This test resulted in a 202% increase in ROAS. ✅

What are programmatic vanity metrics?

As they relate to programmatic campaigns, vanity metrics are measured off-site, such as Click-Through Rate, Video Completion Rate, Viewability, etc. They focus only on ad interaction rather than digging deeper into that customer’s journey or path to purchase.

From Vanity Metrics to Actionable Insights: Refining Programmatic Metrics

A user doesn’t have to interact with the ad for it to generate a positive result (i.e., purchase online, visit a store, sign up for a trial, etc.). Focusing entirely on off-site actions limits our ability to understand the true impact of a campaign against a brand’s overall marketing goals. Optimizing for these vanity metrics can limit advertisers’ ability to reach their target audience. 

📊 How do vanity metrics miss key customers?

Think of it this way – you might be in a pool of users interested in purchasing a new couch (aka “couch intenders”). You are a qualified lead. 

If a furniture company runs a couch promotion campaign optimized toward an ad’s CTR (a vanity metric) and the sites you frequent tend to skew lower CTRs, you will be less likely to be served the ad. The algorithm has to prioritize a high CTR to achieve the ad optimization goal. You, as a qualified lead, never see the ad.

If an actionable metric replaced the CTR goal, you would have been judged by the algorithm as someone likely to engage with the site. You see the banner ad and are more likely to convert.

Barriers to Implementing Actionable Metrics

The marketing technology and digital infrastructure required to implement actionable metric strategies can feel out of reach to some marketers, leaving these brands to utilize antiquated optimization methods centered around vanity metrics that don’t measure true marketing impact. Some of these limitations might include the following:

  1. Cost: The investment of time and new hires to own and implement a robust tagging strategy frequently presents a hurdle.
  2. Infrastructure: Organizations find it difficult to help to equip their team with the resources to help actionable-metric campaigns succeed. When a brand has an extensive waiting period for tag/pixel placement or is a walled garden to place tags, it prevents a campaign from reaching its highest potential in making a true marketing impact.

💻 📊 😌

Deeper marketing metrics don’t have to be costly & complicated.

Unlock the full potential of your marketing strategy with our Axon Audience Manager – the powerful audience management tool from KORTX! 

With Axon Audience Manager, marketing teams can:

  • Streamline your data collection process with Axon’s quick and easy site tagging
  • Achieve comprehensive audience analysis and segmentation using owned First-Party data
  • Optimize campaigns with real-time reporting and in-depth insights

Try Axon Audience Manager for free.

Vanity Metrics Limitations

Relying solely on vanity metrics or metrics that do not directly speak to business outcomes can be tempting. Off-site metrics are easy to track and produce seemingly impressive results. However, focusing on vanity metrics alone can be misleading and ultimately detrimental to a marketing campaign’s true success and impact on revenue. The success of a campaign or individual ads should ultimately focus on revenue or efficiency for the best results.

List of Common Vanity Metrics (Off-Site Ad Optimization Goals)

  • Viewability: Viewability or visibility of your ad. This measures the number of impressions your ad was considered “seen.” 
  • Video Completion Rate (VCR): VCR is the rate at which your video was viewed all the way through.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): CTR is the rate at which your ad was clicked. 
  • Impressions: The number of times your ad was shown across the web.

💬 Should I avoid vanity metrics entirely? 💬
“Vanity metrics have their place in digital marketing, but the key is understanding if they will help you achieve the desired business outcome for the brand.”
Erik Stubenvoll, Managing Director, KORTX

Programmatic Campaigns: Actionable Metrics Benefits

With the evolution of today’s marketing technologies and attribution capabilities, we can now measure deeper insight into the user’s journey through on-site metrics.

This includes site visitation, form fills, purchases, foot traffic, etc. By measuring multiple user actions, marketing teams can optimize for desired actions. 

What are actionable metrics?
Actionable metrics allow marketers to optimize their campaigns based on desired actions taken by users rather than just ad interactions. These metrics focus on on-site engagement and user actions, such as conversions, return on ad spend, foot traffic, and brand lift. 

List of Common Actionable Metrics 

  • Conversions: Conversions can be any desirable site-side activity, such as a form fill, white paper download, or visits to a specific website page.
  • ROAS: Return on ad spend measures the amount of revenue generated from a campaign compared with its spend. 
  • Foot Traffic: The ability to measure the number of users visiting a store after being served the ads.
  • Brand Lift: The measure of your ad’s impact on the perception of your brand.

💻  How can website tagging be used to improve programmatic campaigns? 💻
Successful programmatic strategies require collecting, segmenting, and activating First-Party data. A comprehensive tag plan incorporating all website touch points and the customer’s digital purchase funnel provides brands with the best approach to evolving beyond vanity metrics and into optimizations tied to actionable insights.
-Bryan Presti, Head of Programmatic Trading, KORTX 

tl;dr It is time to look past vanity metrics whenever possible.

Many programmatic advertisers rely on off-site vanity metrics that do not provide a complete picture of campaign performance. Marketers who track metrics that directly impact business outcomes are more able to accurately measure the success of their campaigns and make informed decisions. 

Ad optimization techniques have evolved significantly in the past few years. Previously, marketers could only track campaign success through ad interactions. New technology and advanced analytics allow advertisers to gain deep insights into user actions after being served an ad. 

About the Author

Jess Ostrom is our Director of Account Management and nerds out about the stories data can tell us.

Jess Ostrom

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