The world of online media buying is often confusing and complex. Here are six basic tips that anybody interested in online marketing can use to navigate the dynamic environment that is digital advertising and to plan, execute and measure a successful online advertising campaign.

A: Always outline your objectives

Defining your objectives is perhaps the most important process in the planning of a media buy. Your objectives or KPIs will determine the architecture of your campaign. Of course, when speaking to clients and advertisers, they usually focus on the bottom line. ‘Well, I want more sales.’ We all do.

But what do you need to do to get there?

You need to touch the potential customer on all parts of their journey and measure and analyze each step. When planning an online media buy, you need to approach each campaign objectively and determine what a realistic outcome is for the campaign. Effective planning will help you cover all steps of the customer’s purchase journey from brand awareness to engagement and finally conversions that generate revenue.

Revenue-generating actions are always the bottom line for most advertisers, but there are often overlooked ‘micro’ conversions that also play an important role in today’s shopping process. Some of these micro conversions can include:

  • Email signups
  • Gaining social followers
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Increase of new website users
  • Contact us form submissions
  • Video views
  • Downloads

Micro conversions can and do often lead to revenue-generating actions or macro conversions like purchases, event registrations, subscriptions, etc. Keep in mind, what constitutes as a micro conversion for one campaign can be another campaigns’ macro or end-game conversion depending on the objectives. However, in general, you need to crawl before you can run and focusing on these smaller touch points will help greatly in converting to more valuable actions in the long term.

B: Be aware of your budget

The scary ‘B’ word. Budgets have always been a point of contention in the advertising world. Agencies want more of it and companies want to make more happen with less of it. The good news with online media buying is you can ‘stretch’ a budget and produce an effective campaign for less costs than traditional media has to offer.

When setting a budget, you really need to examine the scope and desired outcome of your campaign. For instance, targeting the whole United States vs a specific town will obviously vary drastically in terms of cost as will targeting a highly competitive vertical such as ‘lawyers’.

The most effective way to spend your budget is another ‘b’ word – Balanced. Your budget needs to align closely with your key performance indicators (KPIs) and remain as balanced as possible throughout the life of your campaign. For instance, if you find yourself spending a large amount of your budget to hit a large untargeted geographic area and generating lots of new users, that’s great for brand awareness; however, that’s not so great for conversions like email signups or purchases. To achieve those, you’ll need to tighten your targets to fit your demographic or even target individuals who have interest in your product.

This will obviously take away from your larger ‘reach’ budget, but does that matter if you’re getting the conversions? Or is the reach more important? How much should you allocate to each? These are the sometimes difficult questions you’ll need to answer when setting your online spend budget. Staying focused on your KPIs will help you answer these questions and develop a concise and effective budget.

C: Creative ads drive results

Long gone (mostly) are the days of ‘You are the 1,000,000 visitor; click here to claim your prize!’ ads. These days, your ads need to be as creative and clean as possible. You have a fraction of a second to capture your user’s attention while they consume content mostly unrelated to your message. In short, ads need to have three things to be successful:

  • Pertinent information – Display the most relevant information first.
  • Call to action – Don’t be passive; be descriptive with your buttons and links.
  • A clean and easy-to-digest design - You want those who see your ad to come away with as much information as possible, even if they don’t click.

While these three things will differ based on the needs of the campaign, consistently utilizing them will bring your ads higher engagement than those that don’t. You want your ads to stand out, but not in a bad way; the ad creative should flow seamlessly into the landing page design and be a part of the users’ experience, not an eyesore that will turn them off completely.

Another way to increase engagement and the success of your campaign is to experiment with different ad formats and sizes (A/B testing). Many sites now offer advertisers the option to utilize a myriad of ad sizes that allows the advertiser to control their creative messaging. Whether it’s rich media ads that allow the user to find a location, enter their email address or see your inventory all within the ad unit, or it’s a video ad educating your user about a new product, the creative world is vast and filled with possibilities for advertisers to use to their advantage.

D: Define your audience

In real estate, it’s all about ‘location, location, location.’ With online media buying it’s about ‘audience, audience, audience’. While the sites where your ads are placed are important, they’re not nearly as important as the audience you’re putting your ads in front of. As a media buyer, it doesn’t matter much to me if my target is on ESPN, Fox News, or looking at a recipe for vegan gluten free quiche casserole. What matters most is my target user saw my ad at the moment of relevance. With the recent developments in both small and large data, audience targeting has never been easier or more efficient.

Audience targeting has two very obvious benefits. First, your message is in front of the user that matters most and second, placing your message in front of the right audience also cuts back on wasteful ad spending. With the myriad of both 1st and 3rd party data available, even smaller sites are now able to target beyond the run of site (ROS) and section front targets.

While demand side platforms (DSPs) and social channels offer a ton of targeting options (age, income, location, internet behavior, contextual, etc .) direct site buys are a little trickier. Each direct buy (calling a site and placing an ad directly) should be explored ahead of time to ensure it meets the audience target for your ads and if not, you need to weigh the pros and cons of whether it still makes sense to run ads on that particular site. However, most, but not all websites can now utilize their own data to target based on the same parameters listed above.

E: Execute your campaign

Once all of your pre-campaign planning is done, you need to ensure you execute the campaign as smooth as possible. Whether it’s a direct buy, utilizing a DSP (Demand Side Platform, where available inventory is aggregated for you to place ads up against) or one of the social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), you need to make sure all of your campaign architecture is in place before you turn your campaign live. Some things that you should include in your campaign architecture:

  • URL map of where each creative will link to
  • Tracking URLs for future measurement
  • Conversion pixels to measure any desired post-click actions like shopping cart checkouts
  • Retargeting pixels to retarget individuals who have visited your site already
  • View-through pixels to measure conversions of users who saw your ad but did not click
  • List of placements (where you are making the buy, whether direct or otherwise, these should be in place to the best of your ability)
  • Other pertinent information that will help the start of your campaign run smoothly

F: Figure out what it all means

Assuming your campaign is running smoothly, you should start to see data coming in, and in some cases, lots of it:

  • Click through rates
  • Delivered impressions
  • Average CPM
  • Average CPC
  • Conversions
  • Placements

Just to name a few.

As part of a digital media buy you need to not only understand all of this data but marry it all together in a way that makes sense for everybody involved, and ties back to the KPI’s you identified at the start of the campaign. Most programmatic data (any ads through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and DSPs) will come directly from the proprietary platforms in which you purchased the ads. Any data for ads placed directly on sites will come from your contact at that website.

Analyzing all of this data will answer a few important questions and greatly assist in monitoring and optimizing the campaign going forward.

  • How is my campaign performing?
  • Are my click through rates where I need them to be?
  • Are my costs where they need to be?
  • What sites are underperforming?

Once you analyze all the surface data like clicks, impressions, and costs, you’ll really want to dig into how it’s performing ‘post click’ and see what the campaign is driving behind the scenes. Clicks are great, but if the traffic isn’t good quality, you’ll want to adjust your campaign accordingly.

Using a tool like Google Analytics will give you a great snapshot into how your campaign is actually performing. Here is where you’ll find your larger, revenue-generating micro and macro conversions such as forms completed, videos watched, shopping cart additions and check outs, event registrations, and any other events you deemed worthy enough to be tracked and measured. All of this data will help establish a baseline for your campaign and make your media buys more efficient in the future as you vie for higher quality traffic.


Here at Liquid, we have a full scale digital marketing team ready to help you plan, execute and optimize your next media buy. If you have any questions about the world of online marketing and media buying, reach out to Ron Sears or Bret Ludlow for a free consultation today!

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Ron Sears

About Ron Sears

Ron works with Liquid’s clients to plan, implement and manage paid online advertising campaigns. As a key part of the Digital Marketing team, Ron works with Liquid’s in-house SEO, social media, email marketing, content and analytics experts to implement integrated campaigns across many industries.

Published Mar 27, 2015