Buying display ads through an ad tech platform is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get – and this can be disastrous to programmatic media buying.

Instead of being strategic about your ad buy, you’re forced to take your vendor’s word for it that the consumers you’re targeting are actually being targeted. This is unfortunate at best and reckless at worst. After all, these are the interwebs. There’s data everywhere!

Is the lack of transparency a result of a true blind spot in technology? Or is your vendor holding back key data on your campaign due to a lack of technical sophistication of their own or in a shell game designed to separate you from your hard-earned marketing budget?

Whatever the motive, here are four types of campaign data you probably don’t have visibility into… but should.

1. What Data Is Being Segmented?

When you buy targeted ads based on interest and/or intent, you’re probably not driving terribly far down the long tail of keywords, sites visited, content consumed and more. Let’s say you want to compete for luxury clothing shoppers who searched for Michael Kors. It would make a lot of sense to differentiate between those who searched for Michael Kors sale and Michael Kors couture. These are two distinct user groups that require distinct messaging, bidding, and optimization to convert to a sale.

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Unfortunately, in most RTB platforms, you’re not buying data segmented along common sense lines. You’re buying bulk data where search queries, sites visited and content consumed get lumped together as Michael Kors or worse, “luxury shoppers.” When data is packaged in this way, there’s a significant loss of performance and information that’s valuable to you, the marketer.

2. When Are The Ads Being Served?

Although attribute and intent data are incredibly important, don’t overlook the impact of timing on programmatic media buying.

We looked at timing and recency in a recent study of more than 200 display campaigns conducted by Simpli.fi clients in the personal finance industry. Unsurprisingly, click-through rate (CTR) was highest in the moments immediately following the search. Meanwhile, cost-per-click (CPC) was lowest in the sweet spot between the aggressive bidding in the seconds immediately following the search and the period so much later that the ad was no longer relevant to the user.

Of course, you can’t tap into these CTR and CPC efficiencies unless your platform enables you to bid differently based on the recency of a data point (like a search query or site visit).  Knowing that your audience engaged in some undisclosed action in some unknown time window over the last thirty days is a dangerous way to go to market. This is, however, the reality of the legions of vendors buying prebuilt data segments off the shelf from the growing mass of data providers.

3. Where Exactly Is Each Ad Served? 

Any ad platform can tell you (most of) the sites upon which your ad was displayed. You just don’t know how many times it was displayed on each site. Let’s say you bought 250 impressions. Did you get 200 impressions on NYTimes.com and 50 on Jezebel.com? Or was it the other way around? Does it even matter? I think so.

Of course, in most cases, this information is not readily available. You may get a sample list of target sites, but you won’t get the whole list. Instead, your ads are blasted into a vortex with little or no visibility or accountability.

Even if you ask for a full list after the campaign, the answer you’ll often hear is no. How do you know that your ad impressions – and ad dollars – aren’t being sucked up by junk sites in the vortex?  This is not true of all vendors. Like the wise man once said, “Choose wisely.”

4. What’s The True Cost Of Each Ad?

In the real-time -bidding advertising market, costs fluctuate constantly based on supply and demand. Sometimes, the price climbs, and you pay more. Sometimes, the price dips and, well, you pay the same.

That’s right. Some technology vendors or DSPs charge fixed rates for the cost-per-impression based on a maximum bid, even though RTB prices are typically 30 percent to 40 percent below the maximum bid submitted to the auction. You, the brand, continue to pay the negotiated impression rate regardless of the true cost of the ad.

This impacts your campaign in two ways. First, you lose visibility into the true cost of the campaign in terms of the cost-per-impression, click, or acquisition. Second, you’re not gaining the financial advantage of real-time-bidding with your “fully-managed” campaign. What’s the point of investing more in “fully-managed” when the results aren’t accounted in key cost-per metrics, and the financial benefits are pocketed by the platform?

Demystifying The Box Of Chocolates

When marketers enter into an agreement with an advertising technology vendor, there’s an underlying expectation of transparency. And, yet, when you ask the questions above, many vendors have no good answers.

Marketers are more savvy that that, which means available data needs to be more granular. There’s no reason to be limited by segments and sample lists or to turn a blind eye to time and price. Whether we’re doing programmatic media buying for direct response or for a branding campaign, we have found that this level of insight and control is invaluable.

It’s time to start asking for more visibility. You shouldn’t be left guessing whether this particular chocolate will be filled with nougat or nuts.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column

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About The Author: is the Chief Revenue Officer for Simpli.fi, a company quickly being recognized as the authority in search retargeting. Since the mid 90’s James has been involved in leading companies who are paving new paths in digital space.



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