Digital media is more complex and confusing than it should be. Many advertisers find it challenging to connect digital media investment with tangible improvements in business performance.

Digital promised increased efficiency, but marketing effectiveness has been steadily falling for almost a decade. Complexity, the opaque media trading ecosystem, and poor measurement practices have combined to shift brands’ focus towards short-termism at the expense of overall effectiveness. And while many brands are getting to grips with issues such as ad fraud, viewability, and brand safety, meaningful ROI often remains elusive.

Digital display and video advertising can deliver tangible and meaningful returns. Yet the digital campaigns that Ebiquity media experts analyse reveal that many brands often miss opportunities to drive significantly more value from their digital investments.

One frequently-overlooked factor in driving better digital ROI is the context in which ads appear online. Ads perform best in high-quality contexts, yet too often campaigns focus insufficiently on context, with little understanding or strategic direction of where ads actually end up appearing.

There are four criteria related to the critical issue of context in digital media that brands need to consider when seeking to optimise performance and generate optimal return on investment. These are:

 Investing in the right media inventory

 Choosing the right KPIs

 Blocking the right keywords

 Building the right attribution model

Investing in the right media inventory

Digital advertising ROI demands that ads appear in the right context. The company that you and your ads keep can have significant positive and negative impact on brand perception.

The highest quality sites are typically editorial and news sites from reputable publishers and commercial broadcasters. Across the internet, however, there are a large number of junk news sites that plagiarise content from legitimate news sites and sell advertising space programmatically to companies and brands. Junk news sites also often buy cheap traffic from other sites to increase ad impressions. Usually, this cheap traffic will be bot traffic and the impressions are fraudulent.

To invest in the right media inventory, best practice includes:

•  With your agency team, review the inclusion lists your media is being bought against

•  Systematically review the quality of the domains on your inclusion list

•  Check your agency’s exclusion lists and ensure these are updated regularly

Choosing the right KPIs

Viewability is now one of the most widespread KPIs, with marketers opting to buy ads that are in-view – according to the Media Ratings Council’s (MRC) standard – with 50% of the creative on screen for one second for display ads or two seconds for video ads. The brief to agency and technology partners has become to secure high viewability (a good thing) and, at the same time, deliver this at a low or cheap cost per thousand (CPM) (by no means always a good thing).

This demand for cheap, highly-viewable inventory has naturally drawn bad actors’ attention and, as a result, has created thousands of sites that very efficiently game the system. These are low-quality, minimal content domains created specifically to drive high MRC-standard viewability at enticingly low prices. Ads bought and served in this way may technically have been viewable, but they may not have been viewed by a human and will not contribute to business goals.

Best practice in choosing the right KPIs requires brands to:

•  Combine ad verification and DSP data to measure “effective CPM” – the cost of viewable, brand safe, fraud free impressions

•  Look beyond the standard viewability ratings provided by the MRC and the IAB

•  Build an exclusion list based on the low CPM/high-viewability sites you identify

Blocking the right keywords

Keyword blocking can be an incredibly helpful tool in the digital media playbook – provided it’s correctly applied. The trouble is, many agencies use it as a blunt instrument or in an over-zealous fashion, blocking ads from appearing alongside content that features prohibited words appearing in the body copy and/or in domain names.

By failing to appreciate the subtleties or implications of blocking specific terms, they often end up preventing ads appearing on perfectly valid and legitimate web pages, including sites that could provide an ideal context in which their brands would benefit from appearing.

Best practice in keyword blocking includes:

•  Understand how keyword blocking is being applied for your brand

•  Ask to see reports on a regular basis and determine if the keywords blocked are relevant or not

•  Constantly review and refine the blocking strategy being used for your brand

Building the right attribution model

Digital attribution – and particularly digital attribution solutions based on last-touch attribution, which attribute conversions to the last ad served before the desired action occurred – is a broken and flawed system.

Contrary to what many vendors claim, last-touch attribution doesn’t take into account whether an ad was seen before action was taken, just that it was served. Attribution models need to be challenged and redesigned to account for a wide range of both short-term and long-term, digital and traditional media touchpoints right along the complete customer journey. The demise of the third-party cookie and behavioural targeting is also accelerating the need to build new attribution models.

To build the right attribution model, brands should follow these best-practice principles:

•  Eliminate last-touch (or multi-touch) attribution credit for impressions that were never viewed

•  Favour advertising on media platforms that only take credit for conversions driven by ads viewable according to standards set by the MRC

•  Build models of campaign performance further up the sales funnel

In summary

The coronavirus pandemic has provided marketers with an ideal (if uninvited) opportunity for a hard reset on digital media investment and management.

One area where we have worked with many brands in this turbulent year – a year which has, paradoxically, offered up the time and space for a digital media performance amnesty – is context. Factoring in these four key criteria in building digital media campaigns can make straightforward, effective, and often quite dramatic improvements in digital media performance and business results.

In November 2020, we published The Power of Context: An Ebiquity guide to improving digital media performance. The guide considers what practice looks like, and includes guest contributions from leading thinkers and practitioners on the power and impact of contextual targeting, and how to get contextual targeting right for diverse communities.

You can download Ebiquity’s guide “Digital Media Performance: The Power of Context” here.

Featured in WARC.

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