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4 things media buyers can do today to improve online advertising

4 things media buyers can do today to improve online advertising Sean Cotton
What is a media buyer to do? It seems like every day some trade publication is harkening the doom of online advertising due to ad blocking, fraudulent traffic, non-viewable impressions or some other crisis du jour. Are buyers simply helpless victims of an industry whose sky always appears to falling? Far from it! In fact, media buyers have as much influence as anyone in regard to establishing and maintaining confidence in the online advertising eco system. Here are 4 simple and vital steps they can take in this endeavor.

1) Insist on Transparency

The only way that buyers can take responsibility for and influence the quality of online advertising is by knowing exactly what type of inventory their media dollars are buying. At a minimum, information regarding site placement performance, view-ability rate and % of NHT (non-human traffic) should be available on request or via a client log-in. This allows the buyer and the vendor to work collaboratively to refine the media placements in order to deliver the best investment of marketing dollars for the end client. Buyers should not simply hand over campaign management responsibility to the vendor and be satisfied with reports on top-line metrics. Establishing accountability between buyer and seller raises the overall quality of online advertising campaigns.

2) Establish Meaningful KPIs

Problems such as ad fraud and the adoption of ad blockers due to intrusive, annoying ads have been enabled by a system that places too much importance on the wrong online advertising metrics. When buyers tell media suppliers that the success of the campaign will be measured by click-through rate (CTR) they are likely going to optimize to sources of inventory that deliver on that metric or utilize ad units that lend themselves to higher CTRs and some of those clicks may very well be the result of non-human traffic or unintended user action. Conversion rate would seem to be a meaningful KPI but last-click attribution can lead to ‘cookie bombing’ and a misallocation of marketing dollars to retargeting (see point #4). A first step toward establishing meaningful KPIs is to focus on cost metrics versus rate metrics. A few examples are viewable cost-per 1000 impressions (vCPM), on-target CPM, effective cost-per-acquisition (eCPA) and effective cost-per-lead (eCPL).

3) Value Media Appropriately

A good media buyer will certainly negotiate and obtain the best value possible for their client. However, we all know the time-proven adage ‘You get what you pay for’. As media is evaluated it is important to balance securing the best possible rate with obtaining inventory that will meet the campaign’s objectives. Too much emphasis on low CPMs invariably leads to media spend on low-quality sites, fraudulent impressions and non-viewable inventory. Another factor to consider is that there are various technology solutions for enhancing view-ability and preventing fraud or non-brand safe ad placement. These solutions, of course, add incremental cost to the media placement but are typically well worth the investment. In the final analysis, the user experience and the actual return on media spend is usually much better for higher-priced quality media than for that which is placed solely with low cost in mind.

4) Use Retargeting Responsibly

Numerous studies have shown that people actually prefer to see ads that are relevant to their interests so using retargeting technology can improve people’s experience with online advertising. This tactic can go awry, though, when reasonable frequency caps are not put in place and previous site visitors are served a barrage of the same ad until they clear the cookie from their browser. It also important to understand the mindset of the users who are being retargeted. For a product that is an impulse buy decision immediate retargeting may be the best approach but continuing to serve ads after a certain amount of days may just be annoying because the person is no longer in-market. On the other hand purchases with a longer decision cycle, such as education or auto, lend themselves to a more nuanced approached to retargeting, perhaps with sequential messaging within windows of time since the person first visited the Web site. Cross-device identification can be very useful for controlling frequency across all the connected devices that people own. These types of responsible approaches to retargeting can lessen consumer concern over online tracking and improve the overall quality of digital media buys.

Media buyers have as much influence as anyone in regard to ensuring that the quality of online advertising matches its capability of reaching the right consumer at the right time. By insisting on transparency, establishing meaningful KPIs, placing the appropriate value on media buys and using retargeting responsibly we may just start to see fewer articles about the sky falling on online advertising.

Sean is an experienced media strategist who has worked extensively with agencies, Fortune 100 corporations, startup companies and regional small businesses. During this time he has partnered with leading digital technology companies in the marketing...

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