Buying Online Display; Click-through Rate & Conversion Considerations


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Have you clicked on a banner ad recently? Has the message engaged you? The online display industry has gone through significant changes over the years. Between DSPs (demand side platforms), ad networks, ad exchanges, video networks, mobile networks, and third party data firms, and Google, the billion dollar industry continues to evolve with the goal to increase your banner ad click through rate.

The mighty click through rate. That’s what these networks and platforms need to measure in order to optimize performance across their thousands of sites they represent for the advertiser. Unless you have a compelling offer that drives audiences to lead capture landing pages, the CTR is a misleading stat when it comes to measuring performance. If you are running display campaigns, and showing a typical 80-90% bounce rate, you have a reason to be concerned. Keep in mind these considerations:

  • You’re really buying impressions with display. Since many display networks sell inventory on a CPM basis, you should be buying based on targeting and efficiency. Thus, display can be considered a branding medium. Assume clicks are a bonus. The contradiction then is between buying display to brand, and having networks optimize based on clicks. I may decide that a viewed impression on may be more powerful than a clicked impression on a less popular website, especially if clicks bounce and the time on site (Google analytics) is 5 seconds..
  • The industry has taken notice that clicks and conversions from directly from display will never match search. It’s why Google introduced the following approaches when evaluating display within their ad network.

View Through Conversions. When users see your display ad, but convert via another channel (like search, social, or email) within 30 days of seeing your ad. I typically show this data to clients when evaluating display and retargeting campaigns. Many networks, like Google and AdRoll, show View-Through conversions in their reporting.

Multi-Channel Funnels. Because with display, you’re not marketing to warm prospects like you are with search, these Google Analytics reports show how display and other channels contribute to future conversions (again within 30 days). Retargeting comes a long way to reach site visitors who didn’t perform a conversion earlier on your site, with the goal to increase conversion rate. Sometimes you have to take this with a grain of salt as well, but it’s one of Google’s way of telling you there’s conversion value with display.

Attribution Modeling. To give display even more credit for conversions, Google analytics allows you decide what weight you want to give display when doing conversion analysis. For example, if you believe a view of an ad the first time is worth giving credit to an eventual conversion (a last-click conversion from another channel), you can make those adjustments with attribution modeling. Of course we assume that an ad served to you on a website (and thus you were cookie’d) you actually noticed.

Whether you believe online display works to build your brand and drive leads or not, the industry continues to grow. The report below from eConsultancy shows online display spending continues to grow.


A similar report from Forrester also shows how display spending continues to grow significantly. As more and more audiences rely on digital for news and information, and less on TV and print, the continued allocation to digital is not surprising. TV is a branding medium; and again, online display has to be considered that as well.


Google has changed the game again: Active View

All these years of CPM impression buying has brought up new questions; most importantly, are your display ads being seen or viewed. ComScore research denotes that more than 30% of display ad impressions aren’t seen by audiences. If you’re an advertiser, that too is a concern. That’s why Google recently started offering a Viewable Impression CPM option when buying display on their network. Google calls a viewable impression an Active View, meaning that at least 50% of your ad was seen on screen for one second or more. Viewable CPM bidding allows advertisers to optimize bids so ads appear in more viewable ad positions on websites, and pay for clicks or impressions on ads that are “viewable” again for one second or more on their screens.

See I can now report on:

  • Active View viewable impression: Shows the number of viewable impressions.
  • Active View viewable CTR: Shows how often people clicked your ad after it became viewable.
  • Active View avg. CPM: Shows the average amount that you’ve been charged for 1,000 viewable impressions.

Display Targeting with Google

I like Google’s method of choosing targeting strategies for display. Below is an over the top example of multiple targeting strategies intersecting together, with the goal to target audiences most interested in your product or service.


Here’s an example of the above, in theory. Make pretend I represent Toyota and am doing a display buy to target Toyota shoppers:

  • Display keywords. Target websites that include the terms Toyota, New Car Shopping in its content
  • Placements: Target specific car buying websites like or
  • Topics: Target groups of websites that cover new car buying
  • Interests: Using 3rd party data, target groups of websites whose visitors match profiles of audiences who may be in the market for a new car
  • Age: Target age groups except 18-24 and 65+

All in the name of increasing display click through rates via better targeting of audiences most likely to pay attention. And, I can bid on the above strategy using viewable CPMs!


To display or not display; that is the question. Display of course does have a role; branding, creating interest, building recall, and if creative was right, can drive quality clicks and conversions. You have to have a plan with expectations first. Google and other networks are trying to give us tools and analytics to support the role of display. You never want to make rash decisions when analyzing performance. Understand how display works and its role within a multi-media digital mix. Of course, we haven’t discussed creative. Google recently introduced engagement ads for video messaging within the Google display network. That’s for a future post.

Well I hope this post “clicked” with you, and gave you some considerations when buying and analyzing display. How has display worked for you?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Paul Mosenson
Owner of NuSpark Marketing Helps B2B and B2C companies market themselves through integrated tactics, (traditional advertising, internet advertising, SEO, social media), conversions, and sales through lead nurturing/marketing automation.


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