Deciphering Web Data

You are sitting on a pile of incredibly useful data. You just don’t know it yet. But if you’re tracking results on your paid search campaign, online display campaign, site visitor behavior, or all three, you have access to information that can boost your profits and help you understand the relationship between your products or services and your customers.

Unfortunately, reviewing raw data by itself is like being caught in a high-stakes game of Jeopardy. The good news is that you have the answers. Now you need to figure out the questions.

But once you ask the right questions, the answers will start to fall into place. Then you can jump into the display advertising world and make intelligent decisions that will help you crush your competition.

  1. WHICH PUBLISHER SITES DOES MY BEST TRAFFIC COME FROM? If you’re running any sort of display campaign, or even a keyword or site-targeted campaign on Google’s AdSense network, and tracking the results, you should be able to form an idea about where your best traffic originates. Line your campaigns up side by side, and see which ones drive the most traffic, the most sales, and the highest-quality customers.

    Keep in mind that “highest-quality customers” might not mean the customers who generate the most click-through conversions. We’ve found that as many as 90% of the conversions that occur based on a given ad result not from a click, but from a view. That is, the viewer sees the ad, doesn’t click on it, and converts later by directly entering your URL into his Web browser, or navigating to your site through other means. You need appropriate technology to house the data, but without it you won’t know for sure where your best traffic comes from.

    Once you know the sites that perform the best, you should explore additional opportunities. If you approach the publisher directly, armed with data about your campaign performance, you might be able to save on your CPMs by eliminating the network as middleman, since in normal circumstances the network takes a share of the publisher’s revenue.

    Since these are the sites with your best customers, they should be the incubator for new business initiatives. Want to test a new message, offer, or launch a new product or service? Putting the new creative up on your best publisher sites presents an opportunity for your customers to give you feedback. They won’t tell you directly, but the answer will lie in the performance data. Are the ads getting a lot of clicks? Are those clicks engaging with your Website and ultimately converting? Let the answers inform your broader marketing efforts, and you’ll roll out all your full-scale promotions with a huge leg up.

  2. WHO ARE MY VISITORS, AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING ON MY SITE? Retargeting has become a buzzword in the industry lately, but surprisingly few people have a comprehensive understanding of its true power. People commonly use the term to refer only to retargeting based on the click, but it is also possible to retarget based on the visit and the view. Perhaps the most important aspect of retargeting has nothing to do with retargeting at all, and everything to do with segmentation.

    Retargeting based on the click — the most commonly intended meaning of retargeting — is a practice wherein an Internet user clicks on an online ad, the advertiser identifies that user through a cookie, and then targets ads exclusively to that user across a network of publisher sites.

    Retargeting based on the visit is the most powerful form because it allows for behavioral segmentation. It works in the same way as retargeting based on the click, but it allows you to get to know your site visitors in a way that until recently was only possible in small, mom-and-pop stores in the offline world.

    The simplest way to segment your audience is by products viewed. For example, if you’re a drugstore and a site visitor views a certain brand of paper towels, you could retarget those visitors with offers to buy those paper towels. But there are hundreds of other ways to break out your customer data and remarket to them. You could do it by action (did they purchase or abandon a shopping cart?), zip code (what are their specific needs based on where they come from?), time of day or day of week of visit (will a specific product provide an extra benefit to a Friday visitor?), the referring search keyword (what did they tell the search engines they wanted?), and combinations of these custom parameters.

    If you take your feedback loop to a higher level of sophistication, and track the performance of each message to each segment and sub-segment, you could learn even more about your customers, to the point where you can know which offer to present to which segment to drive the most sales. For example, you could know that if someone in Southern California abandoned their shopping cart filled with a designer shirt at 5 p.m. on a Friday, and you show them the “free shipping” offer, they’ll come back to convert at a rate that maximizes order volume. You’ll be able to do this for every segment.

    Back to retargeting, the newest frontier is retargeting based on the view. The form of retargeting with the largest audience, this shows your message to viewers who have already come across another of your display ads elsewhere. One best practice here is to use a technology that automatically limits the impressions to individual users. For instance, if a user views an ad three times, you could stop showing impressions to that user’s computer. This will help you avoid ad burnout, and help save you money on wasted impressions to uninterested customers.

    Another powerful aspect of retargeting is that it allows you to follow your customers around the Web. That in turn reveals their “online DNA,” which can help you find their “online cousins.”

    For example, if you find that you are retargeting your site visitors spend on finance-related publisher sites, you might consider buying ad space on more finance-related sites to bring in new business.

  3. IS MY DATA ACCURATE? If you’re running a campaign using an automated placement that makes decisions based on results, the worst thing you can do is feed the technology inaccurate or incomplete results. Make sure all your tracking codes are accurate and your pixels fire appropriately. Take into account the fact that many users may delete your cookies manually due to fear of spyware or malware. Remember that many of your conversions may happen offline, at your bricks-and-mortar store, so your display campaign is probably driving more revenue than you think.

    On the other hand, it may be driving less revenue than you think. You must set up a system that credits each conversion back to the appropriate marketing initiative. This can get tricky in the online world, where your prospects may view and click on multiple ads before converting. If this occurs, you can either credit one marketing initiative entirely, such as the last ad the customer viewed or clicked on before converting, or you can distribute the credit evenly among all the referring ads.

    Additional complications can arise if you run offline campaigns, such as TV, print, or outdoor ads along with your online ads. If you do, it may be impossible to know whether a customer viewed an online ad and later converted, or if it was your TV ad that really drove the sale. The best solution is to allow for some sort of time limit before crediting an online conversion to a view.

    So if you’re advertising heavily on offline channels, your prospects may be viewing your ads every few hours. If that’s the case, it may not make sense to credit any conversions that occur five hours after an online view. But if your investment in traditional channels is on the lighter side, you might want to wait a few days before giving up on an online view.

    These practices of gathering data, asking the right questions to interpret your data, and using it to find your audience will always yield the best results. As long as you understand your business and understand technological and marketing developments, you’ll be in a strong position going forward.

David Honig is vice president of media services at Did-it Search Marketing, a New York-based search engine marketing and auctioned media management agency.

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