A couple of days ago at the Mediapost OMMA Behavioral Insider event, I presented to the audience about what should be the best friend of behavioral targeting networks: site optimization and site targeting.

I took the stage immediately after industry legend Dave Morgan, whom Steve Smith, the host of the event, called “Mr. Behavioral Targeting.” Dave’s larger-than-life history includes founding Real Media and then Tacoda, selling to AOL, and becoming their SVP for Global Ad Sales.  I have long admired Dave, and have met with him a few times over the past 5 years to discuss how behavioral targeting and Web analytics could work closely together. From the first cup of coffee we shared in New York 5 years ago, we agreed that both the ad side and the site side were co-dependent.

So, being careful not to offend the media buying and advertising-centric crowd that was sure to make up this event, we talked about the need for the online advertising folks to not only realize that the site is a critical component of every campaign, but to start evangelizing for integrating site optimization to increase campaign success as part of their efforts.

As the total interactive ad spend grows from its current $20 billion to the $61 billion that Forrester estimates will be spent by 2012, we are beginning to see smart marketing executives realize they must invest more in the site. After all, ads funnel visitors to the site — without a site that hums, nothing is sold, and no meaningful relationship is built.

That means that the ads actually depend on the site for ROI. But currently, the money in interactive spend still skews much more towards the ad-spend side than the site side. If you consider that the typical web site for a company receives the majority of its traffic from non-paid sources, one could argue that the spend is weighted on the wrong side for strategic value.  Some may say that this is because marketers are still learning how to market using this new channel, and buying traffic is a relatively easy process — easier, at least, than tackling the multi-dimensional strategic design, voice, flow and usability of a web site.

Think of an iceberg: the tip of the iceberg, which represents ad spending, is more visible and easy to focus on. The tip is also what is easily seen, and what therefore first engages a new audience. However, the mass of the iceberg, as we all know, is 90% below the water. In other words, 90% (or more) of the process of turning a visitor into a customer happens on the site.

The iceberg is a single entity — the 10% above the water and the 90% below are indelibly connected to each other. From the visitor’s point of view, the ad starts a brand impression that is continuous, from view to click to site visit to conversion to repeat visit. Visitors don’t view the ad impression as a single step from the media team which then hands off the site to the site team. They view the whole encounter as an iceberg, a single brand experience with you.

Customer expectations are on the rise with the Web Channel, and when they see an ad that is relevant, their anticipation grows that the next click will deliver even greater value.  When the next experience leads them to a place where the conversation is forgotten or worse, where the conversation goes completely sideways and is disjointed, the anticipation leads to disappointment and the visitor leaves.  We call this unfortunate series of events “anticipointment.”  Today the chasm of anticipointment is great for most companies, and the real costs in low conversion rates, lost brand value add to the poor customer experience in still to be tackled efficiencies of the Web channel for marketers.

To offer solutions to the problem of anticipointment, we have been working hard to build out our online marketing suite over the past 18 months.  There is a concept called the Online Marketing Value Chain that we are discussing quite a bit.  The idea is similar to the iceberg metaphor.  The visitor sees a message whether it’s in the form of a behaviorally targeted ad, a targeted email, or a search result, and they decide whether there is enough value in that message to engage in the next click.  If they do, and they arrive on your site’s landing page or home page, they are looking for more value with each click they make, as they 1) engage deeper in the site, 2) make their way through the conversion opportunity, and 3) become a loyal customer.

Companies today are investing in a host of technologies to deliver more value to the customer and enhance their experience and engagement in the site, from efforts such as landing page optimization using MVT or AB testing, or on-site targeting, or on-site search, widgets, customer reviews, surveys and recommendations.  These applications have the right intent but need to be part of the logical customer dialogue and not just another example a one-way disjointed conversation from the company talking outward.  To make this a dialogue with each customer that makes sense, a common customer dataset must be shared across all of the applications so each application knows what level of engagement the customer had with each other application and takes that into account as it is invoked, so it continues the same conversation and doesn’t change course or start it all over again.

We used the iceberg analogy, and talked through the Online Marketing Value Chain at the OMMA event, and the audience seemed engaged the whole time. They seemed to agree that they were ultimately dependant on the site itself for conversion and ROI success. Still, it was clear that most of the folks don’t have responsibility for the site — so while they agree, they feel they aren’t really in a position to do much about it.

As a digital industry, we can’t accept this state of affairs. We need to go farther than nodding our heads and then going back to the same conversation we had yesterday. Digital industry folks need to start internalizing and evangelizing that the site is A CRITICAL component in every campaign, and we need to plan, buy and execute every campaign with both owners in the room working together. The site needs traffic to hit its growth numbers, and behaviorally targeted traffic has been proven time and time again to be among the highest yielding traffic an advertiser can drive. That same traffic needs a site that continues the conversation in a relevant manner, from landing page through to conversion, which in many cases takes a few visits to occur.

At the end of last year, a group called the Corporate Executive Board came out with a report called “Identifying the Drivers of Digital Effectiveness”, in which they evaluated the four major areas of digital investment in marketing: display advertising, email marketing, search marketing, and the web site itself. They found that the most strategic area for investment for most companies should be the web site. The report didn’t get much media attention, probably because the media that report on digital love to talk about the sexy side of the business — which tends to be ad-centric rather than site-centric.

So all in all, we were really pleased with the warm welcome we had at the conference, and we look forward to continuing the conversation with the online advertising industry in future events.  But we believe there’s still a lot of work to do. Every professional in the digital industry needs to begin breaking down the silos between the ad side and the site side, and realizing that silos are a huge prevention to the age-old mantra we all learned about in our first jobs: integrated marketing.


I completely agree with the article. "Still, it was clear that most of the folks don’t have responsibility for the site " is typical scenarios that we face with our clients. Even when areas of improvement in Site is identified and informed to the client the time taken by time to set things right is really long. It is where i believe an Internal Web Analytics Team may have a better success rate in convincing the management. Advertisements create the expectations in the minds of visitors, make them click and when the visitor feels the site doesnt deliver what he expects, he moves out as fast as he entered. Hence it is ultimately the site that will have to do the selling... Pals

Avinash Kaushik
Avinash Kaushik

Here is a quote I have been using recently Brent: "Never let your ads write chq's that your website can't cash." - AK. :) Like in real life that leads to bankruptcy! Your post is a timely reminder. -Avinash.