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A Tree in the Forest & Ad Impressions: Measuring What's Important

Volume 2, Issue 3 - March, 2012

Bill Muller, Editor

We’ve all heard the old question asking if a tree falling in the forest actually makes a sound when there’s no one around to hear it. The same question essentially exists when it comes to whether an ad impression actually reflects a user “viewing” the ad or not. And most attribution systems, not to mention ad servers, blindly count an impression as an impression, period. But it’s important to understand that your goal should not be to know whether the ad was actually viewed, but to learn how much, if any, impact the ad had on a conversion. And in this, there is a scientific way to measure that impact.

The Forest: Typical Online Behavior

You don’t have to be a marketer to know that lots of factors influence what we view on web pages. We perform a search for a specific piece of information and click on a promising search result, or we go to our favorite bookmarked sites for news, sports, or entertainment. When we arrive at a particular publisher’s site we may immediately decide that we’re not interested in what has been retrieved and we leave - or we get a phone call, run to a meeting, or get a cup of coffee.

There are ads that appear above the fold, those that appear below the fold, ads that never quite fully load from the ad server, and ads we scroll past without ever realizing they exist. So short of a user actually clicking on an ad, a healthy amount of skepticism should exist as to whether an impression was actually even “viewable,” let alone actually “viewed.”

Result Oriented Attribution

Result oriented attribution calculates the amount of impact an impression has on a conversion. This algorithmic methodology analyzes the touchpoint stacks of the visitors for whom a specific impression was recorded, as well as the touchpoint stacks of visitors for whom such an impression was not recorded in order to identify the difference in their respective propensities to convert. Using this scientific and statistically accurate way of measuring the impact of an ad, you don’t need the data on which visitors were drinking coffee when your ad was displayed!

Does It Really Matter?

So as interesting as it might be to identify with 100% certainty whether a visitor’s eyeballs focused on your ad and read it, the fact is that what really matters is whether that digital asset had an impact on a conversion. Properly executed attribution actually provides you with this more meaningful marketing intelligence to drive your optimization strategies than simply which ads were viewable or viewed - effectively leaving the answer, like the one about the tree in the forest, of little consequence one way or another.

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