Jun 27 2023
Hope Lowdermilk

Programmatic 101: Driving Performance with Campaign Optimization


You’re setting up a programmatic campaign and reviewing your digital checklist before the campaign goes live. Have you targeted a specific audience? Check. Established the KPI? Check. Set the bid, uploaded the creatives, and chosen the inventory? Check, check, check. Now you’re ready to sit back and watch the data flow in... right?

Not quite.

While setting up a campaign involves careful planning and execution, there’s a world of potential that lies in continuously monitoring and refining its performance. Through data-driven insights and strategic adjustments, optimization empowers marketers to enhance targeting precision, maximize conversions, improve ROI, and ultimately drive impactful results.

In today’s ever-evolving digital landscape, adapting and optimizing campaigns is key to effectively engaging your target audience. Read on to learn more about what digital marketers need to know about campaign optimization.

Performance Starts with Campaign Planning

Similar to how an athlete’s performance is impacted by how much training they put in before the game, programmatic performance is largely shaped by the decisions made during the planning process. In order to have something to optimize toward, you should look at your goals and translate them into measurable KPIs during planning (CPC, CPA, CTR, conversions, etc.) It's a lot like picking a campaign targeting tactic. Without doing the work and research beforehand, you’re playing a guessing game and casting your net too wide.

Here are some questions advertising teams might consider throughout their planning process:

  • Does the business goal match the digital objective chosen?
  • Do the targeting tactics align with the digital objective?
  • Was the right key performance indicator selected to measure success?
  • Is there a benchmark for campaign performance, and is it based on historical campaign performance?

All of these factors will influence campaign performance and an advertiser's ability to optimize effectively.

Making Optimizations to Drive Performance  

Once you’ve decided what you want to achieve, and once your campaign is live, it can be a challenge to figure out how to start optimizing. Let’s break down the different optimization strategies to help you get started:

1. Dive into Data

First things first, you need dataBut that doesn’t mean you can or should make major optimizations based off just any amount of data. The sample size needs to be large enough to be valuable and allow for informed decision-making.

Optimizing a campaign based off one hour of campaign data is not sufficient. Generally, you want to wait until either 10-20% of the campaign is delivered, or the campaign has been running for one week.

2. Embrace a Combination of Manual and Technology-Based Optimizations

Once you’ve got campaign data, advertisers should leverage a combination of manual and tech-based optimizations, as each has its own focus.

Manual optimizations have a broad scope and can impact performance by drawing upon historical insights, considering additional metrics beyond the key performance indicator, and accommodating campaign intricacies (such as directing funds to a nascent market with limited brand awareness).

Technology-based optimizations employ advanced algorithms to uncover patterns, trends, and opportunities that are solely focused on the key performance indicator. These optimizations also automate repetitive tasks, effectively conserving valuable time and resources for advertisers.

3. Make Minor Optimizations

Minor optimizations can be made on a tactical level to push spend towards delivery and performance, and include adjusting the bid for win rate and efficiency or shifting your budget to higher performing tactics. You can also look at your top spending sites to see if they are meeting or exceeding your KPIs. If they are, increase your bid, and if they’re not, turn the site off.

Some sites might get thousands of impressions, but not enough engagement. That’s often a sign that an ad might not be reaching the right audience, or that the content on the page doesn’t have a strong call-to-action. If that happens, you may want to consider turning those sites off and reallocating budget to sites that are producing better results.

4. Consider Major Optimizations

Major optimizations are made once you notice the campaign needs more dynamic changes. As a best practice, a tactic should spend at least $1,000 or deliver 1,000 impressions before teams make any major optimizations.

Once a campaign has reached this threshold, advertisers should focus on:

Building Allow Lists & Block Lists

By identifying domains that demonstrate exceptional performance as well as those that underperform, advertisers can strategically develop an allow list comprising top performers or implement a block list to exclude domains with subpar results.

Optimizing Creatives

By reviewing creative performance, advertisers can optimize out of poor-performing sizes or versions. As a best practice, each creative should have delivered at least 10,000 impressions before determining whether it should be shut off. In addition, advertisers should consider uploading a different creative type or style in the same size if a particular ad size is doing well.

Evaluating Tactics

Through analyzing data provider and tactic performance, advertisers can strategically redistribute their budget to prioritize top-performing entities while also exploring the availability of additional data segments offered by these high-performing data providers.

Reviewing Exchanges

Advertisers can identify if a particular exchange is hurting performance and remove it accordingly. It’s important to note that this should only be done on campaigns running for a few months or with a large budget (at least 10,000 impressions per exchange). Don't be afraid to make a change and see what happens. If removing an exchange doesn’t produce the desired results, you can always add the exchange again.

Campaign Optimization Best Practices

Whether an advertiser is implementing a minor or major optimization, there are some best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t optimize too quickly. Give the campaign time to accrue enough data, so you can take a data-driven approach.
  2. Don’t optimize too frequently or infrequently. There is no right time to optimize. You don’t necessarily need to optimize every day—checking into the campaign on a weekly basis is a good place to start. Always allow enough time, spend, and data between changes.
  3. Keep track of all your changes. Even using a simple Excel doc to track campaign tweaks will be very helpful to see what changes produce what results. If the CPC goes up, and you’re tracking changes, you may notice you recently removed an exchange, and that could be the reason. You can always undo, revert back to the original, or try something else.

Next Steps: Campaign Optimization

In the ever-evolving digital marketing landscape, mastering the art of optimization is essential for advertisers to unleash the full potential of their campaigns, connect with their target audiences, and drive strong performance. By using these strategies and best practices, advertising teams can optimize their campaigns in an intentional and data-driven way to maximize return on ad spend.

Hungry for even more knowledge about campaign optimization? Check out our optimization learning path on AdTech Academy!

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