Avoid the Vanity Metric Trap: Focus On Search Metrics That Matter

Hundreds of measurements and data points exist in search marketing. While it’s important to pay attention to all these metrics directionally, don’t let yourself fall into the vanity metric trap. Instead, laser focus on those search metrics that will move the needle, that will drive the best performance. Of course, this comes down to your budget, category, customer and business goals, but generally if you laser focus, you’ll be successful in search. Before you even think about specific search metrics, identify your primary goal and objectives at the start. If they’re not clearly defined and set initially, you can easily exhaust your resources on metrics that conflict with each other, which can hinder your success. It’s like rowing a boat. If one oar is rowing toward a ROAS goal and the other rowing toward a SOV goal, the boat may move, but not in the direction intended. Instead, you’ll waste energy, effort and investment rowing around in circles and never get to your destination. When you have a clear understanding of your objectives, then you can  determine the key performance indictor (KPI) that most aligns with effectively measuring a primary performance goal. Paid search goals fall into three categories: 1. Traffic-Focused Goals These goals drive more customers to engage with your brand and website. Metrics that align with traffic-focused goals include impressions, impression share, lost impression share due to budget or rank, clicks and click-through rate (CTR). CTR is the ideal standard KPI because it will measure the efficiency and effectiveness of your ad, the relevancy of your keyword and the traffic driver. Optimization and performance management can directly impact CTR while impressions and clicks rely largely on the searcher’s behavior and the budget. However, it’s important to note CTR may not be ideal for advertisers with small or strict budgeting parameters as low click volume can skew the percentage-based metric. For traffic-focused goals, watch out for these potential vanity metric traps such as exit rate, bounce rate, time spent on site, SEO rankings, site content, metadata, view-through impressions, session duration, screenshots and mockups. 2. Cost-Focused Goals These goals help you spend your budget effectively and efficiently. Consumer search behavior and interest drive the search channel, so seasonality plays a crucial role. Metrics that align with cost-focused goals include lost impression share due to budget, media cost, average cost per click (CPC) and cost per action (CPA). If you want to track advanced metrics, look at budget impact, the point of diminishing returns and budget incrementality testing. CPA is the ideal standard KPI because it will effectively measure valued actions as a result of budget spent. CPC is not the best KPI for search because it can fluctuate wildly with every single keyword search participating in a real-time blind auction for ranking. Watching CPCs, bidding and market rates by category is helpful when optimizing and leveraging bidding strategies, but you don’t have the direct control to force CPC rates. Budget impact and point of diminishing return evaluations are costly and require significant volume to be statistically sound. So while these metrics are important for enterprise-level investments, they may be overly sophisticated for your current business economics or budget bandwidth. For cost-focused goals look out for vanity metrics such as CPM, cost per thousand, (no cost for paid search impressions, so this metric is null and void), service fees, tech pass-through costs, revenue per search, lifetime value, production costs and creative costs. 3. Performance Goals These goals drive customer actions that lead to performance results. Metrics that align with performance goals include conversions, sales, leads, phone calls, cost per lead (CPL), revenue, profit, CPA, return on investment (ROI) and return on ad spending (ROAS). To track advanced metrics, look at attribution modeling, media mix modeling and cross-functional lifts. Profit, ROI and ROAS are ideal standard KPIs because they measure the return on your investment. Unlike the other two metric groups, any of these measurements can be a strong KPI depending on the brand and goals. If CPA is your KPI, first evaluate and determine a baseline with the volume of those actions, leads and conversions. For performance goals, watch out for vanity metrics such as page views, and don’t focus much on metrics in other goal groups. All metrics are important to the larger program in some way, but paying too much attention to any of these can distract you from spending time optimizing toward your primary KPI and can derail your campaign’s overall quality and performance. To produce results and ensure industry excellence, optimize your primary KPI and spend your time and effort on paid search lead and lag measurements toward quality, relevancy and account performance that matter and make the largest impact. Paid Search Lead Measures Relevancy and Quality Ad Rank: This calculation is incorporated with your bid with each real-time auction. Ad rank quality components are used in several different ways and can affect auction eligibility, CPC costs, ad position in the SERP, eligibility for ad extensions and other formats. Overall, higher-quality ads typically lead to lower costs, better ad positions and more advertising success. Health and Optimization Optimization Score: This score gives you an idea of how well your account is optimized, set up for success and leverages best practices. It pulls out recommendations and what impact those optimizations may have on your account. Targeting and Settings New Feature Adoption: Testing out and adopting cutting-edge and innovative new features that leverage machine learning can help you evolve in the digital space, and getting familiar with new features early will help you prepare for wide rollouts, releases or phaseouts. Paid Search Lag Measures Relevancy and Quality Quality Score: A high-quality score tells engines the ad and landing page are relevant and useful to someone looking for your brand. The relevancy between the keyword, ad copy and landing page is what is considered a great user experience. This relevancy relationship is what earns more clicks, a higher position in the SERP and brings you the most success. Health and Optimization Account Health Scores: With our constantly changing industry and seasonality considered, these scores help you see how healthy your account is over time and bubble up suggestions to improve your overall account health. Ultimately, healthy accounts perform better and produce results. Targeting and Settings Standard Feature Adoption: If you understand the standard feature fundamentals, you can lay a good foundation and set your account up for success.

With so many measurements and metrics, oftentimes the optimization levers you’re pulling to achieve one goal can directly conflict with another. Consider this scenario:

An eCommerce athletic clothing company wants to drive online sales and has selected ROAS, a performance metric KPI, for its paid search program. After a marketing meeting, the client wants to ensure the brand is serving in top position for the general keyword “fabric masks.” That’s because there’s an internal initiative to build content and research around which fabric is best for preventing the spread of germs. But this mask initiative, with conflicting measurements and metrics, doesn’t align with the brand’s primary goal. Fabric masks are also an aspiring content play for this client and not hyper-relevant to its existing brand or product offering. Pulling levers to drive ROAS versus the mask initiative differ and could negatively affect performance in both areas, impacting overall account quality and health. To avoid the vanity metric trap, intentionally set meaningful goals and pay attention to the search metrics that matter most. This will keep you on track and focused on what’s truly important so you can make the most significant positive impact on your overall marketing program’s quality and performance. Want more paid search tips and expertise? Become an Industry Insider and get digital media news and ad tech insights delivered biweekly. Or if you need a partner to help you successfully plan, coordinate and execute your next paid search program, reach out today.

COVID-19 Update on Digital Insights and Advertising Trends

Shot of a couple watching tv while their kids are busy using digital tablets at home

How long will the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ultimately last? Three more months? Six? Nine? Longer? And when it’s over, what will daily life, the workplace and commerce look like? Rather than trying to predict when the crisis will end and what life will look like after COVID-19, smart marketers are focusing on the future and on how consumer habits and behaviors are flexing now. To make it easier to keep a pulse on the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape without all the legwork, we’ve scoured our own resources and pulled together this COVID-19 update on digital insights and advertising trends just for you.

Streaming Media Holds Strong.

Streaming services have been the clear winner throughout the pandemic with over half of consumers in a recent GlobalWebIndex survey saying they’ve been watching more streaming content during this time. Multiple other studies back up this finding and identify this trend as one that’s here to stay. Survey data from Luth Research in late May found that over 60% of consumers will continue or increase their number of subscriptions to streaming services once the pandemic ends and life gets more back to normal. Resonate also supports that finding. According to their data, 62% of consumers state they’re increasing their consumption of streaming TV, and 40% are increasing their consumption of streaming music.

Want to better understand how to be where your audience watches? Check out our advanced TV guide or stat pack to learn about the latest trends and just how to transform your TV strategy. Or find out what advanced TV is and the advanced TV questions to ask yourself before you buy.

Major streaming services are reaping the benefits of this uptake. Netflix added 15 million subscribers within roughly four months, and Disney Plus, which launched in November 2019, already has 54 million subscribers, putting it far above its original expected trajectory. Uncertain about their financial futures after COVID-19, consumers are also turning to ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) services as well, such as the Roku Channel, Crackle and YouTube. An April study by Integral Ad Science found 44% of consumers added a free streaming service due to the COVID-19 situation – meaning plenty of new ways for advertisers to continue to reach their ideal customers throughout the pandemic.

Online Grocery and Food Delivery Continue.

Services that were beginning to scratch the surface of adoption at the beginning of the year rapidly accelerated at the start of the crisis as stay-at-home orders were put in place and people were afraid to leave their homes. Digital and contactless services like online grocery ordering, food delivery, curbside pickup and drive-throughs provided consumers with safer options.

These services are expected to be adopted for the long term now that consumers have become comfortable with the ease and convenience they offer. In fact, the same Luth Research survey found that about four in 10 consumers were planning to continue or increase their use of online grocery shopping and meal ordering throughout the pandemic.

Ecommerce Remains King.

All product categories have experienced massive growth in ecommerce as consumers continue to do most of their shopping from the safety and comfort of their homes. Most categories have seen more than 10% growth in their online customer base during the pandemic.

Businesses that had no online presence before the pandemic had to move extremely fast to establish one, or risk going out of business. A July survey from GlobalWebIndex found that 50% of people expect to shop online more frequently after the outbreak is over – making that investment in an ecommerce platform worth it for long-term success.

Social Media and Messaging Level Out.

In the early days of the pandemic, social media stood out as a winner, and younger consumers are still dedicating a large amount of time to the medium. Twenty percent of consumers still intend to carry on with using social media services and messaging apps after the pandemic is over.

However, eMarketer data from June suggests that even though up to 51% of U.S. consumers were using social media at higher rates during the pandemic, the research firm believes consumers will eventually get back to their normal routines of school, work and social activities, allowing the social media trends we’re seeing now to moderate.

Social justice issues too added their own complexity to social media. By late May, the focus on social issues across the country resulted in campaign performance declines across all categories as people collectively paused their social media usage during Memorial Day weekend and the national protests. Social media advertising also began to experience hurdles as platforms put in place additional procedures for monitoring and flagging controversial topics. Pandemic-aside, July brought an entirely new crop of issues and changes for social media with the #StopHateForProfit Facebook ad boycott. Advertisers used that time to shift media from social platforms to other (safer) channels. Even though Facebook felt minimal pain from the last major advertiser boycott (remember Cambridge Analytica?), some experts believe this boycott will be different and have bigger, more lasting effects if Facebook doesn’t implement structural change. Curious how to reduce your reliance on Facebook, read Jay Friedman’s recent Ad Age byline or save your seat for our upcoming webinar on the topic.

Online Education and Remote Work Take Hold.

Are online education and remote work here to stay? Students and working adults seem to hope so. According to GlobalWebIndex, six in 10 Gen Zs and Millennials express a strong interest in enrolling in online learning programs, and over 40% of consumers would like to continue working from home.

Many companies across the globe are starting to realize remote work’s benefits like lower overhead costs and bigger talent pools (benefits we’ve realized at Goodway for over 12 years), and some high-profile businesses such as Twitter have already announced they’re going to let it continue. It doesn’t stop there. Other major industries like healthcare and fitness are experiencing big shifts in their operating models with telehealth and virtual fitness products and services expected to stick around.

The world is changing, and with it, the programmatic ecosystem too. That’s why in early March, our analytics and insights team began compiling programmatic trend data based on what they were witnessing in the programmatic ecosystem. Here are the latest advertising trends they noted:

Win Rates and Average Bid Prices Rebound.

When the pandemic really started to take hold in the U.S., advertisers panicked and either went dark or significantly decreased their ad spending as they figured out how to navigate the uncertainty of a global pandemic. This caused competition within ad auctions to decrease dramatically, allowing advertisers to win more impressions.

Win rates increased 54% from early March to mid-April. By May, as the dust started to settle, competition began steadily rising even though win rates remained strong, and advertisers recognized the need to be present for their consumers. And by June, win rates started to increase in conjunction with average bid prices after a consistent months-long downward trend.

CPMs Remain Low.

As other metrics oscillate with the lockdown measures, reopenings and case counts, CPMs have remained below 2019 levels since mid-March. In April, while CPMs stayed low, CPCs were slowly creeping up, indicating that users were seeing more ads but were being more selective about where they chose to engage. When states began to reopen in June, CPMs inched up — a trend that’s now reversing alongside a resurgence in COVID cases. This means there are still opportunities for advertisers to take advantage of lower CPMs to further their reach and spend efficacy in the digital space.

Mobile and Ecommerce Increase.

Beginning in April, mobile saw an uptick in performance as a result of increased focus on the medium. People have been heavily reliant on their smartphones as a means of entertainment and communication, even more so during the pandemic, and advertisers have enjoyed the benefit of increased conversion rates on mobile devices.

Regarding ecommerce, Amazon has been a clear winner in the space, as both a marketplace and as an advertising platform. Brands that have jumped on ecommerce and leaned into their online capabilities witnessed performance increases by the month of June.

TV and Video Become More Popular.

As consumers drastically increased their streaming media and online video consumption, advertisers followed the eyeballs and hopped on the connected TV (CTV) bandwagon to reach those users. Connected TV offers multiple benefits – targeting, reach and flexibility to name a few — and the channel is finally getting its day in the spotlight (albeit not in the best circumstances). CTV and video advertising not only benefited from consumers’ increased streaming consumption in lockdown but also from the #StopHateForProfit campaign as advertisers reallocate their social media spend to less divisive channels.

Want to go beyond this COVID-19 update on digital insights and advertising trends? To see how COVID-19 is impacting marketers and for actionable steps to take now, download our recently released marketer’s guide to COVID-19 and our extensive COVID-19 vertical research and resources. Or if we can help you find innovative ways to engage your customers and prospects and further your business during this critical time, contact us today.

Planning a Data Strategy for Sweeter Results

Chocolate bar data strategy playbook featured

What does your data tell you about your customers? How is it stored to ensure customer privacy and security? Can it be easily accessed, processed, used and managed? Can you get actionable insights from your data in real time?

Do you have answers to all these questions? If you don’t, here’s how to start planning your data strategy today for sweeter results.

Data Strategy Definition

Planning a Data Strategy-Definition

A data strategy is simply the strategic plan you set and follow at your company to get your data in shape so you can leverage it to the fullest. It includes deciding who will be involved and the methods and processes you’ll implement to capture, identify, enhance, manage and activate your raw data so it can become accessible, usable, and shareable across your organization – and become one of your biggest assets.

Data Strategy Components

Your data strategy should include these four parts:

1. Talent.

Be sure you have the right people up for the task who are well-versed in advanced analytics and who know and understand the latest platform integrations and data processing privacy compliance best practices.

2. Process. Include specific processes that address data governance, ongoing maintenance, ad platform management, future innovation and cross-functional insight sharing.

3. Infrastructure.

Access the right tools that can ingest large amounts of data, build and activate audience segments and analyze impact and learnings. Foundational infrastructure, for example, can be access to third-party data providers, a data management platform (DMP), etc.

4. Data Content and Sources.

Determine what data is valuable to your business and marketing objectives. Then evaluate your available data and look for gaps and how to fill them.

Data Strategy Planning

Of course, setting a data strategy isn’t a one-time task. It requires ongoing work, vision and a lot of effort to make successful. Think of your data strategy as a road map to achieving your short- and long-term goals, crafted in such a way that it’s capable of meeting your existing needs and future ones too as your business changes, evolves and grows.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to setting a data strategy. Finding what works depends on what your company does and its maturity and corporate culture, among other things.

But no matter the situation or circumstances, anyone can successfully start here. Answer these questions first to lay a solid data strategy foundation:

The Data Strategy Planning Questions To Ask Yourself

Goals & Objectives

  • What are your goals?
  • What do you want to learn about your customers?
  • Do you know who your customers are?
  • What does success look like to you?

Preparation

  • Who will oversee your data strategy?
  • Do you have a legal compliance and consent process?
  • What is your auditing process to ensure data quality and accuracy?
  • What type of platform do you need to unify, manage and segment data?
  • Does your infrastructure allow data to integrate with other systems?
  • Do you have the technical expertise to handle these data integrations?
  • Do you have a plan for sharing data across departments?
  • What reporting capabilities do you need?

Data Collection

  • What data do you need to measure business impact?
  • What data can you access now?
  • Do you need to enhance your data sets to fill any gaps?
  • Is your data aggregated holistically?

Segmentation and Modeling

  • How will you segment your audiences for activation?
  • Do you want to use look-alike modeling or offline modeling?
  • Can you use propensity modeling based on your data?

Activation

  • Where will you activate your audience segments?
  • Does your DSP enable search, social dynamic creative and more?
  • How can you use your data to optimize your campaigns?

Planning a Data Strategy-Benefits

Answering all these questions upfront in the planning phase can make creating and implementing a data strategy more efficient and much easier down the road. And once you have your data strategy, with the right reporting tools, you can reap a lot of benefits. Here are just a few:

Data Strategy Benefits

  • Get actionable and meaningful insights you can apply to future campaigns.
  • Share your data across your organization for cross-departmental learnings.
  • Gain a greater understanding of your customers.
  • Measure well and know what advertising efforts are giving you the best results.
  • Use the tools you need to tie your online and offline advertising efforts together.

Even knowing these benefits and the value of having a solid data strategy, does creating one at your organization still seem overwhelming? Then craft your data strategy by the book, our data strategy playbook, that is.

When you download our data strategy playbook, you’ll learn:

  • the seven fundamental steps to designing, creating and activating an impactful and effective data strategy,
  • all the data types you need to be successful,
  • what to do after you capture your data and how to deal with any gaps,
  • how to generate insights as you launch your data strategy,
  • and more!

In fact, “more” includes two bonuses inside:

  • a helpful data strategy assessment quiz: Are you crawling, walking or running when it comes to your data strategy? Quickly gauge the stage you’re in. Know your data capabilities and just what to do next.
  • a data management checklist: Get the steps you should take to get your data in order once and for all. Then as you go, tick off the items on the list so you can chart your progress.

Download and flip through our playbook and get the latest data strategy research, insightful infographics, and all the essentials for building an audience-first data strategy.

As you map out your organization’s data strategy, please reach out if we can offer support. We can walk you through how to build a custom data strategy that will last the long haul, one that will be flexible, adaptable and effective both now and later, no matter where the future takes you.