The internet is the most measurable communications medium ever invented, so why can’t we agree on how to measure it? A journey into the world of online video metrics leads to muddled math, conflicting philosophies, and a stunning lack of consensus about what a truly meaningful impression actually is. The only point of agreement: simply counting clicks is meaningless.
Jonah Goodhart, CEO and co-founder of Moat, a consultancy whose tools measure online engagement, contends that digital advertising won’t truly flourish until everyone agrees on metrics that matter. While direct response advertising (e.g. “Enter your ZIP code and click here to sign up for online courses”) works online, he says, branding advertising (e.g. “Jaguar: Born to Perform”) doesn’t, at least not yet, because its impact isn’t measurable. Only 25 percent of online advertising is brand-oriented, while it accounts for 67 percent of the total worldwide ad spend.
“There are no standard measures of success for digital advertisers,” Goodhart says. “We need to figure out how brands are going to spend money in a digital world. It’s a huge deal.”
Is there any agreement at all? Cross-reference various lists, and there is some common ground, shaky though it may be:
Play Rate and Playthrough Rate or Watch/View Time
The Play Rate measures how many people actually watch the video once it’s loaded. You use it to figure out if your ad is positioned well and whether the still image that introduces it is compelling. The Playthrough Rate (or Watch/View Time) measures the average length of time a viewer watches it before clicking away. Studies show about half the audience stops watching after about 15 seconds, which should be an impetus to turn traditional TV-style thinking on its head and put your branding up front.
“Our research shows that the playthrough rate is a very meaningful metric,” says Noreen Hafez, product marketing manager for analytics solutions at Akamai. “We know that correlates with the attention span of the viewer. We also know that it correlates with the loyalty of the viewer to that web site. Further, we know that it’s related to the perceived value (and level of interest) of the viewer in watching the content itself. We also have quantitative evidence that viewers will play through an ad with greater patience, since they view it as implicit payment for the content.”
The Conversion Rate measures the extent to which your video inspires further action, such as generating a new lead or triggering a sale. Marketers sometimes look at it in combination with playthrough to see at which point viewers left to then take further action. But there’s a big problem with this metric, according to Goodhart. “I don’t buy Coca-Cola online,” he says. If Coke measures its success based on how I interact with its ad, it’s going to think I’m not a good customer. Face it, very few people see a car ad and then rush out to buy a car. Conversions are interesting, but they’re not success metrics because they’re saying that people who didn’t convert are worthless customers, and they may not be. We have to separate impulse buys from branding impressions.”
Video SEO is interesting because online video ads don’t come with many searchable words attached to them. That means you can choose keywords with care and track their performance. Luckily, since so few words are in the mix, it’s easy to swap keywords in and out to test which ones make an impact. Marketers can therefore use video SEO as a good research tool.
In our social media-centric world, a share indicates that the ad in question was engaging enough to inspire the viewer to take action, and with viewers doing some of your work for you, you can yield a better ROI. Following a passalong from one site to another can also give you insight about which sites work best for your message and content. But again, Goodhart contends, there’s a misperception about sharing. “If I don’t share your ad, does that mean it had no impact on me? Who knows? It’s another false success metric.” In other words, Coke’s polar bears may have made you smile (i.e. made a powerful impression) even if you didn’t share them on Facebook.
Visibility and Viewability
Perhaps the most important measure of all is the idea of Visibility and Viewability, at least in the eyes of Goodhart, whose company has tools to track them. In TV, he notes, visibility isn’t a problem because a commercial is full-screen and commands your full attention. It blocks your path. Online, an ad can compete with many others on the same page, and the viewer can easily scroll it out of sight, even as it plays. So was the ad actually on the viewable screen, and if so, for how long? Getting a handle on that metric is key to helping brand advertisers get a better handle on how to use online advertising effectively.
An important 2012 study by comScore and Pretarget found the same thing. “Your ad being seen matters more than your ad being clicked,” said Pretarget founder Keith Pieper when the study was released. “After all, what good is an ad that can’t be seen? It’s intuitive that an ad must be seen to make an impact, and it’s even more intuitive than someone hovering and engaging with an ad might convert, even absent a click.”
In fact, some online agencies, most notably true[X] media, are trying to “reinvent the commercial break” as CEO Joe Marchese puts it, by delivering interactive full-screen, 30-second ad units that are self-selected by the viewer in exchange for some kind of reward, such as extra premium content. It’s like TV online all over again, which is fine with Goodhart. “TV works. TV stops your content and tells your story. Digital doesn’t. At least not yet. Everything is competing for your attention.”
“Brand advertisers must ensure that their brand is associated with the right content that visitors are interested in,” adds Hafez. “Video ads must ensure a quality viewing experience with a fast start-up time, high bitrates, and no buffering so there is a lower abandonment rate and higher engagement.”
Hands image via Shutterstock.