First the good news: Most marketers viscerally understand the value of native advertising even without statistical proof.
"(Advertisers) know that readers, possibly, see banner ads, but feel they read native content. Otherwise, why would they be there?" said Todd Handy, Vice President of Advertising Strategy at Deseret Digital Media, speaking at the 2014 Native Advertising Summit.
But a key dilemma for newly hatched native advertising programs is to demonstrate the value after the sale.
Advertisers primarily use native for branding, which is more complex to measure than direct response ads, even with a number of online tools available.
For example, what are 200 article reads worth versus, say, 210,000 impressions from a banner ad?
"Advertisers still struggle to understand the value hierarchy of qualitative differences," Handy explained.
Native ads are primarily sold on a sponsorship model which obscures specific additions of value, while advertisers still can't help trying to measure native in traditional ways.
"Your advertisers are absolutely wondering about display impressions and and backing into a CPM. Even though it is a thought leadership medium, analytics are very important," Handy said.
In fact, according to Contently, in fact, 69% of national marketers say they only use pageviews and unique visitors to measure the success of content. Less than half examine time on site, but 50% wanted more ability to measure attention paid to their content, and 7% measure nothing at all.
"Its the blind leading the blind," Handy said.
Local media with native programs face a similar dilemma.
Large advertisers so want to "see" how results relate to expenditures, and typically go back to measuring what they know: CPM. But what if they calculate say, a $200 CPM - or higher -on article views, since that is what they perceive they are paying for? It's up to the sales reps to add in all the impressions that resulted in those views (see also our report on Pricing and Packaging native ads).
Smaller local advertisers are less likely to "do the math." However, they are also more apt to compare the measurable response from native ads to measurable results from direct response ads: Clicks to the site and return on investment.
So a good start for local media with native programs is to create a value hierarchy for native ads to use in training reps and clients - and create a spreadsheet that measures all metrics for the campaign.
Here's a version of the value hierarchy presented by Handy, speaking about pricing native advertising at the 2014 Native Advertising Summit:
Reporting also needs to include all of these kinds of interactivity. Here is a list of all of the impressions and activities that show branding value included in our report on pricing and packaging:
• Total impressions of the promotion - This is the least important in and of itself, but helpful for advertisers that will be backing out CPM.
• Story reads - This is one step more valueable; typically if someone clicks through to the article, advertisers will use that as a key metric.
• Shares - When the promotion or the article is shared, that demonstrates the content is gaining attention and preference.
• Side door traffic - Traffic from additional promotions on Facebook, etc. should be included in views, in addition to including shares, clicks and other data.
• Time on site - Time spent on the article is also "with your brand."
• Scroll downs - A factor of engagement that most local advertiser do not understand. For more sophisticated advertisers, a scroll depth of 3/4 of the page is counted as a read.
• Comments - A clear example of engagement with the content is the number of comments.
How to track analytics
Today the best way to completely track all of the engagement analytics needed to show value may be to post them on an Excel spread sheet. See the attached spreadsheet as a starting point to create your own.
Use the average analytics for a typical home page editorial article as a control.
The relative performance of each individual article or campaign becomes clear, to eachother and to the control - makes it easier to talk about metrics with clients.
Unfortunately, the information will probably come from a variety of sources.
If DoubleClick, or another ad-server, hosts the promotional headline, the click-throughs to the article page can come from this source.
Otherwise Chartbeat tracks engagement in real time and Google Analytics can derive any missing information.
Other options include Omniture to track time on site and scroll depth, Facebook, Twitter and email tools to track social shares and side door traffic from the media's own audiences.
But there is just no simple way as yet to aggregate these into a dashboard. Handy's team tracks 22 metrics per client on the simple Excel spreadsheet below.
"The purpose it so to show some of what we do really well and .. we don't have a consolidated system just yet."
From tracking over the years the program has run, however, Handy says the team has been able to identify some basic metrics they can use to sell future advertisers and to compare performance:
• 582,495 home page views from the logo and position in the queue
• CTR from home to the article is 2.31%, 200% higher than the performance of a banner ad to the web site.
• Article unique viewers average 10,410
• Article reads average 13,400 per article
• Time spent engaged with article averages 1.59 minutes
• Social shares average 71
Deseret Digital is also participating in the beta-test of a Native Ad analytics dashboard created by Chartbeat. Here's an example of what it looks like:
Although their are some bugs in the Alpha test, Chartbeat is well positioned to be first to market with a working platform for native analytics.
However, for local media, Chartbeat's pricing may remain out of range. Today the fees are based on total page views of the site where the native ads run; so in the case of Deseret Digital's big-traffic, KSL.com, the price would be $8,500 a month; too much, Handy says, even for a mega-media backed by the Mormon Church.
Deseret's sales people also prefer using Omniture's less accurate and overstated measurement of time on site. Omniture counts from the time the page loads, until the user clicks off. Chartbeat, on the other hand, cuts off the timer if there is no activity for 5 seconds, then starts starts counting again when there is a click. So time on site is more accurate but also lower.
For smaller local media with native programs, the two most important measurements are article views and social shares; clients want to know the content was good enough to share. So a simpler spread sheet that shows all impressions (include all ad units on the article page and all social impressions), article views, social shares and clicks to the website are the three most important numbers to track.
While native ads are primarily for thought leadership and branding, advertisers still want to see clicks to their web site.
Once all these numbers are in hand, it's much easier to show value to advertisers.
Take the case of a native ad that shows a $200 CPM on views of the article page. That's a typical results of a native ad running on Deseret's KSL.com, which has close to 600,000 impressions on its home page. To calculate the real CPM, Handy says, requires adding up all the impressions, not just article views, but also home page impressions, the three ads on the article (728x90, 300x600 and 300x250), social shares, comments, and so on.
When this is done, the actual CPM falls to a respectable $4.
Deseret also compares results to "what would be possible" using comparable media buys.
"We asked how much display media would a client need to by to get 13,000 engagements with a brand in the form of a click-through?" said president Chris Lee, president of Deseret Digital, speaking at the Local Innovation Conference.
With a .1% CTR - which is ahead of the national average - it would take 13,000,000 impressions, which, at $3 cpm is $39,000.
Many thanks to Todd Handy, VP of Advertising Strategy and Chris Lee, President of Deseret Digital for sharing this information at the Native Advertising and Local Innovation Summits. See also Civic Science as a free polling tool that will help measure brand lift for media's online audiences.