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Rethinking the Metrics – Why CTRs Alone Aren’t Enough

You’ve defined your ideal audience, your company’s unique value proposition and your budget. Now it’s time to choose a medium (or two, or three!) on which to advertise.

Over the course of the past several years, display advertising has come to the forefront as one of the most successful manners in which to market one’s business. And like many other companies, Hearst and the Times Union have been bettering their display advertising efforts in order to deliver the most successful campaigns.

Along the path to achieving better outcomes for our clients, we’ve learned a thing or two. For starters, we know that running a successful display campaign is MUCH more complex than simply putting an ad up on a site and looking at click-through rates (CTRs) to determine success. There are many moving parts that must be considered when launching a successful display campaign. Perhaps three of the most important elements are:


  • Appropriate targeting
    1. Applying the correct targeting gives your advertiser the best chance to get in front of the right audience. We should always be considering where in the modern consumer journey this targeting might be appropriately applied.


  • Getting the messaging right
    1. Just getting in front of the right audience is not enough. The message should match the goal and appeal to consumers. In addition, creative is something that should not be overlooked (we can embed videos into advertisements!) We strive to offer the best guidance and support around design.


  • Measure, and then measure again.
    • How is the success of a display campaign measured? It’s much more than click-through rates or CTRs. We’ve learned that we should always be looking to track multiple metrics simultaneously in order to determine the true success of a campaign. For branding and display campaigns, we must understand KPIs on a deeper level. We’ve worked to master the understanding of KPIs in order understand the ins-and-outs of campaigns to better help our clients.


We know that click-through rates are no longer the sole indicator of a display campaigns success or lack thereof. Below, we’ve outlined a handful of metrics that can accompany what was once the Holy Grail of metrics in order to glean the most needed information.


So… What exactly is a KPI?


KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, is a metric that signals how well a company is achieving important business objectives. KPIs help businesses turn high-level goals into actionable tasks with measurable results. The key being measurable.

A common high-level goal is something like this: “Increase company revenue by 20% this year.” And while that’s a great goal to strive for, it fails to tell individual departments and team members what actionable steps they can take to help the company reach that goal. Especially Marketing departments and efforts. That’s why we need to dig deeper and fully understand KPI’s. We would argue that a crown jewel of KPIs is Return on Ad Spend, or ROAS.




Return on Ad Spend is a marketing metric that measures the amount of revenue your business earns for each dollar it spends on advertising. In this case, the money you’re spending on digital advertising is the investment on which you’re tracking returns.

ROAS is one of the most important for any business. For every dollar invested, that dollar must come back with more money attached to it than it went out into the “marketing world” with.

Really, it’s just basic common financial sense. But for us as partners to our advertisers, it is a critical detail and one that must be fully understood.

Beyond ROAS, there are a few other KPIs to understand that will make that investment in advertising a worthwhile cause.


Call Tracking or Click to Call


This may vary in terms of capabilities, but call tracking allows us to see how many consumers clicked directly from the ad to call the business. On a deeper level, call tracking can include software that records information about incoming calls to that business, and in some cases, even records the actual conversation. If you are looking to increase phone calls through display advertising, this would be an appropriate KPI to associate with the campaign.


Form Fills


This is another CTR based conversion, but it takes it one step further by allowing your business to capture pre-determined fields that you want potential customers to pro-actively fill out.

Form fills are a fantastic lead generation tool. However, there is a tradeoff between quality vs. quantity. If more information is requested from a consumer within the form, there is a likelihood that fewer forms will be filled out for your team to follow up on. On the flip side, if there is too little information requested, you are at risk for receiving low-quality leads at a higher volume.

We suggest your forms are specific to your business, but not overly complicated or personal as that will likely deter users from following through with form submittals.


Unique Visitors


Unique visitors refers to the actual number of single IP addresses that come to a website within a given time frame (typically 30 days). This number does not increase if a previous visitor returns to a page multiple time. There are variances with users now using multiple devices daily, but this is still a very accurate number to track when trying to show the client their display ads are driving more eyeballs to their site.


Viewable Impressions


Ad viewability, or viewable impressions, is the concept of how visible ads on a website or mobile app are to users. For an ad to be considered “viewed”, at least 50% of the banner or creative must display on screen for more than one second, as defined by the Internet Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) standard for what consists a viewable impression.

This is a simple way to see if your  ad spend is reaching more eligible eyeballs. An ad is considered “viewable” when 50% of the ad shows on screen for one second or longer for static or HTML5 display ads and two seconds or longer for video ads. ​


Hover Rates


This KPI gets a little tricky, but we’re going to mention it anyway. The actual definition of “hover” means to position a computer cursor over something (such as an image or icon) without selecting it. And yes, that can be tracked in some instances.

One major area where marketers and some vendors are making a huge mistake is placing value in metrics based on the maneuvering of user’s cursors while browsing a web page. Although conventional wisdom suggests that someone is likely to be looking at an ad if their mouse is hovering over it, recent research suggests this is not the case.


Next Steps


In order to be sure that you are targeting the right people and creating real value, understanding and gathering crucial information like personal demographics, geographic location, interests, browsing history and more is necessary.

The Times Union helps your business get the most out of every ad impression. We are constantly revising our strategies to optimize campaigns to deliver the best results and ensure that your return on investment is optimized.

Want to learn more about display advertising campaigns? Get in touch with us today!


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