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A Beginner’s Guide to Success in Direct Media Campaigns!


Buying media directly from a publisher is an expensive undertaking. Unlike a display campaign in Google Adwords, there is usually a minimum amount of spend required for a campaign, which can be quite costly. In addition, most publishers run their campaigns on a CPM basis, where you pay per impression (as opposed to click) making an inexperienced advertiser even more vulnerable.
Unfortunately, not all agencies and PR companies are fully transparent and /or take the time to properly explain the true results of your campaign. Instead, they will usually focus on the numbers that make them look good, but that are not necessarily aligned with the business goals and KPIs that you set out for your campaign. While it’s impossible for me to teach you everything in one blog post, I will lay out my top five tips for business owners who are engaging in direct media buying. Keep in mind, however, that there are still many advanced optimization tips and best practices that you will need to implement as well.

Make it Clear that you are Looking for a “Performance” Campaign

Sales agents for major websites are used to dealing with inexperienced customers, or PR firms who do not usually dig deep to analyze these digital campaigns. You need to make it clear from the outset that you are not looking for a typical branding campaign that brings lots of impressions. Rather, you are looking to drive a high volume of traffic to your website and that an important KPI is the quality of this traffic. Make it clear to them that you tag all of your links and conduct extensive analysis of the traffic via tools such as Google Analytics. This will set the tone for the rest of the negotiation, as they will now know that they need to deliver quality impressions that will result in real, high-quality clicks.

Understand where the Ad Impressions will Appear

Be alert for the sales pitch that “even if a user does not click, they still see your message.” An impression simply means that your banner loaded on the website, but this includes instances where the banner is at the bottom of the page and not visible. It is extremely important to make sure you understand exactly where your banners will appear, in order to maximize impact and CTR. If the banner is above the fold, there is definitely a branding impact even when it is not clicked. However, when below the fold, this is simply not the case.

Beware of the “Interstitial” and other sensitive Mobile Placements

While desktop traffic is often the better performing audience, click through rates from desktop banners are extremely low. The publishers know this and also that one of your main KPIs are clicks. As a result, they will typically allocate a high amount of impressions to mobile placements, where the click through rates are extremely high. What they will not go out of their way to tell you, however, is that a tremendous amount of your mobile “clicks” are actually accidental clicks made by users with “fat fingers” who are actually just trying to close the ad. How else can you explain why the interstitial placement consistently brings an insanely high CTR, but also an alarmingly high bounce rate? UTM tag your ads by placement and you will see exactly what I mean.

Use a UTM tag for every banner

In order to allow for the most comprehensive analysis of your campaign, each unique banner should be linked with a unique UTM tag that describes the placement. This will allow you to analyze the traffic not just on the overall campaign level, but also on the placement level. This is crucial knowledge which will allow you to better prepare for your next campaign, as you can now exclude all of the poor performing placements and take more impressions of your top performing placements.

Use your own Ad Server

Serving ads from your own ad server allows you to accurately track the impressions and clicks of your campaigns. Without your own ad server, you are forced to rely solely on the publisher’s reports and hope they are transparent. Unfortunately, there are often major discrepancies between the publisher’s click reports and what Google Analytics or your website analytics reports. With an ad server, you will have a 3rd party to validate the true numbers. If you are running a small campaign and can’t justify the costs of an ad server, you can always use Bitly or Google URL Shortener to track the actual clicks on your ads.
To summarize, a Direct media campaign offers an opportunity to display banners in the most premium slots of websites you believe are visited by your target audience. Working with a strong and relevant publisher can bring great success for an e-commerce brand, especially at a time of a large sale. However, because of the high costs of these campaigns, as well as the “tricks” that can be pulled, these campaigns can also be quite dangerous if you do not know what to look out for.


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