Forget Click-Through Rate: 10 Metrics To Track For Display Advertising

sean-callahan"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Sean Callahan, marketing director at Bizo and editor at Digital Marketing Remix.

Digital ad spending continues to climb, with US budgets expected to reach $42.5 billion this year and grow to $60.4 billion in 2017, according to eMarketer. Despite this growth, marketers still struggle to prove their digital efforts are working.

Digital advertising has been and continues to be one of the most difficult ad mediums to measure. Advertisers often feel unsure about what metrics point to success. To prove their digital investments are worthwhile, they rely heavily on measurements such as the click-through rate, which is thought to demonstrate a target audience’s interest.

There’s a problem with this approach. While marketers create brand awareness at the top of the funnel and focus on educating prospects in the middle of the funnel, success is still pinned on click-through rates and other metrics that point to leads and conversion, which are historically bottom-funnel metrics. This is especially true with display advertising.

With the B2B sales cycle getting longer, it’s imperative that marketers measure programs based on what they want to achieve at each stage of the funnel. This will enable them to take a true pulse of their growth and stay focused on drawing new prospects into the funnel.

Using CTR to measure display ad performance may make sense for the bottom of the funnel, but it doesn’t work for the top or middle of the funnel.

Here are 10 other metrics marketers can use to measure the performance of display advertising:

Top-Funnel Metrics

Display ads can be used as a branding vehicle. It can be just as effective as TV, but it’s more cost-effective and you can measure it more accurately.

Creative that is geared toward the bottom of the funnel often has strong calls to action so that, when acted upon, the user is effectively saying they are ready to move forward with your product. However, much of the audience you hit with display ads may not be aware of who you are just yet. In short, it’s equally important to deliver creative ads that focus on driving brand awareness and educating your audience.

Many of these metrics depend on benchmarking, so marketers should measure, for instance, their branded search prior to a display campaign in order to gauge the lift when the display campaign is running. It’s important to note that metrics can vary from industry to industry and from company to company. The best way to gauge the performance of display ads is to measure them against your own brand’s performance when they’re not running.

1. Brand Recall: To measure the effectiveness of a branding display ad campaign, you can commission an online brand study comparing the increase in awareness of your brand among people who have seen your ad vs. people who haven’t.

2. Branded Search: Likewise, when your online advertising campaign is running, you should see a lift in the number of searches for your company or products on Google or other search engines.

3. Direct Website Traffic: This last metric is helpful to monitor for the top of the funnel. During an online banner campaign, your website analytics tools should show an increase in visitors who have typed in your brand name and arrived directly at your website.

Mid-Funnel Metrics

As I mentioned before, the mid-funnel is really focused on engaging and educating prospects. When running a display campaign that is focused on education, there are several metrics that will help you understand what’s working so you can keep driving prospects down the funnel.

4. Cost Per New Website Visitor: To calculate the cost of acquiring new prospects, divide your total campaign cost by the number of new visitors. This will give you the cost per new website visitor.

5-6. Page View Lift and Web Form Lift: While display ad campaigns are running, marketers should see target prospects viewing more pages on their websites and completing more forms as they download gated whitepapers and other content. The two success metrics to track to here are page view lift and Web form lift, respectively.

It’s important to understand the true impact of your advertising efforts so you can identify what’s working and what’s not so you can then put more wood behind the arrow of what’s driving success.

Bottom-Funnel Metrics

By now you’ve gained brand awareness and have educated and engaged your prospects. It’s time to turn those prospects into leads.

7. Total Leads: Bottom-funnel display ads can drive your target audience to your website, where you can entice them to share their contact information by filling out your Web forms. The compilation of all contacts whose information you have can be considered total leads.

8. Cost Per Lead: You can also measure the performance of your bottom-funnel display ads by tabulating cost per lead, which is the number of leads divided by total cost of the ad program.

9. Opportunity Contribution: Lower-funnel display advertising should also provide a boost in opportunities that make it into your sales pipeline. This is known as opportunity contribution.

10: Revenue Contribution: Likewise, when bottom-funnel advertising is running, you should see a boost in revenue contribution and total closed sales opportunities that originated from marketing. A comScore study found that companies combining display and search advertising saw a 119% lift in attributed sales.

Taking a look at all these metrics will make it much easier to get a handle on the real influence your campaign is making. When you just look at conversions, you don’t get the full picture.

But by taking this full funnel approach, it puts you in a better position to nurture prospects down the funnel.

What other metrics are you tracking?

Follow Sean Callahan (@sean_f_callahan), Bizo (@bizo) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


  1. First off, I have huge respect for Bizo and the products they deliver. That said, some points in here rub me the wrong way. I agree that we need to rethink our KPIs in an audience-centric media world and Sean's metrics are valid (and accurate). But I have a hard time agreeing to the fact that measuring digital is hard. Maybe I'm biased because I make my living telling clients how much easier it is to measure digital than their traditional counterparts, and am successful at it. In other words, when I hear, "We moved the needle +5% because of that billboard," or "We have 100 GRPs in that TV spot," I counter with, "what business did that drive; can you tell me in revenue, contribution margin?" And in fact, it is through digital media where obtaining accurate results on these metrics is profoundly easier. Bottom line, great article, I just question the premise.

    • "I just question the premise."

      That's because the whole point of the premise is to distract the client from measurable/more measurable metrics - because objective reality is hard (and low CPM/CPC/etc) and marketing BS is easy.

      But in the age of the internet, ignorant clients are getting thin on the ground.

  2. I appreciate the effort, but this is a naive view of comprehensive campaign performance--especially for advertisers whose products are purchased offline. A true and holistic measurement of performance would include not only whether it drove people to the advertiser's website (and all of the ratios that can be derived from this visit or view through), but also whether the campaign changed their attitudes (as measured by a survey or monitoring social media mentions across the web) and/or whether the campaign changed prospects' behavior on other shopping sites (e.g. a Westin campaign affecting behavior on Orbitz or, or a Hyundai campaign's effect on behavior on or that consumers sometimes prefer to use.

    • Brand lift studies are generally lame. How many do you ever see that do not report a successful lift?

  3. Mark McLaughlin

    Sean - great summary of the critical metrics that senior marketers actually care about. But, I must warn you that the digerati are going to attack you for failing to keep this stuff extremely complicated and arcane.

  4. Really enjoyed the article. The difficulty is that unless you test each portion of a campaign individually, it is difficult to figure out which channels are working. Now you are left with the same dilemma as with traditional media.

  5. Alex Sutton

    I enjoyed the article and thought it was a solid high level. In essence, display is a mid-to-top of the funnel activity (outside of display re-targeting) and measuring it on CTR misses the point of Display. Yet, it's a default KPI for measuring success of a program (along with last-click conversions) - based on conversations I've had with numerous marketers. Based on CTR and last click conversions alone Display programs are incredibly difficult to justify spend versus other top of the funnel channels and extremely difficult to determine the real impact of one display partner versus another.

    I love the use of brand studies (which you can get some display vendors to provide gratis with certain spend commitments), page views and cost per new visitor. I'm surprised that conversions did not make the list - for all the e-commerce marketers out there. I find view-through conversions (with a 30 day window) to be helpful in providing added insight into the performance of top and mid of the funnel campaigns. Do any of you have thoughts around additional metrics/ KPIs (e.g., banner interactions, post impression visits, etc...)?

  6. Sandeep

    Setting new metrics is very easy but hard to justify. I remember the days when Google first started the CTR game in market and now it is the first to rub it away. However your metrics look promising to advertisers but defining them is very difficult. Look at the situation where the ads are shown to 100,000 users and only 500 took part in brand lift analysis survey( targeted and non - targeted ). There are high chances that all 500 might love the brand or hate the brand and there are high chances that more users are there in remaining who did not participate in survey. In such cases how the brand lift makes sense. Majority of the brand lift reports are -ve because of this reason and also adding to this fact, people who hate are more active in participating in survey.

  7. These kinds of metrics would be great for our CMO--but he is still under tremendous pressure from executive and sales leadership to prove that every dollar we spend translates into some kind of Lead contribution. Recall and awareness will only get us so far in justifying the investments we are asking the company to make.


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