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The Great CPM Debate

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Never has there been a time where technology has been changing so rapidly.  There are so many updates to keep up with that as an agency, we have to spend time daily evaluating them.  The differences day to day occasionally cause a full standstill until you re-position.  The issue that arises is that businesses aren’t all marketing agencies (thank goodness) and they don’t have the time or ability to analyze changes and determine what that means.  In fact there is a national debate about just how much information the giants Google and Facebook actually have about us and our digital habits.  Since these 2 companies make up 63% of digital marketing, their changes can have drastic worldwide changes instantly.  Even those in the marketing industry often are confused because there are so many terms.  We commonly see geo fencing and geo targeting confused as well as SEM and SEO.  Since this is the case it’s no surprise that industry metrics from years ago still remain even though there’s a more effective way to go about it.  Here’s why CPM (cost per thousand, as in imporessions) as the basic metric doesn’t make as much sense now.

  1. Impressions are easy to get but vary in quality.
understanding the difference between display and responsive display

The buyer process starts at a broad level and then moves to intention to purchase from you.  Generally when agencies give you their CPM, there’s no real discussion about where in this process the impressions fall.  For most customers, telling them that they can buy at $8 CPM vs $10 CPM seems like a no-brainer.  I mean, you’re getting more for less right?  Unfortunately, this is where there’s so little overarching standard that the 1000 impressions that you are getting promised for $8 or $10 are totally at the discretion of whoever is creating your accounts.  If they aren’t skilled, don’t really understand your business or aren’t experienced you’re going to end up with a lot of useless impressions.  In the above info-graphic, you’ll notice that there’s 2 types of display ads listed; standard display ads and responsive display ads.  Discussing the differences between these is beyond the scope of this post but generally responsive allows for better brand representation and space for information.  Since these impressions often lead to a better outcome, they are more expensive in terms of CPM.

    2. Change is difficult.

The biggest hurdle in the digital marketing industry is the constant need to update clients on what has changed without overwhelming them.  When texting first came out, the majority of people laughed at it asking why anyone would waste time typing a message when they could just immediately call.  Decades later, it’s absolutely part of everyone’s lives and no one gives it a second thought.  This is the same principle for digital marketing as well.  As Google and Facebook continue to gather more and more information, they can build algorithms that more accurately predict behavior.  This increased accuracy means that you can serve less but more quality impressions.  This scares many agencies who make a ton of money purely off impressions because the goal was profit and not client success.  Sure, if clients succeeded that’s great, but the bottom line financials right?  This type of approach is quickly going away.  We often get asked if we are intimidated when clients who are using larger agencies contact us for an evaluation.  The answer is no, we actually love it.  The landscape of the digital world is changing rapidly and we love rooting out ineffective and overly large marketing campaigns so that we can replace them with optimized and budget conscious ones that actually get results.

    3.  Impressions aren’t the only thing needed.

You can’t buy a car, slap a turbo on it and then just go.  When you add more power, you have to make sure that all the components downstream are capable of handling it.  Placing too much emphasis on just how many impressions that you’re getting means ignoring all the other parts of the buyer process.  You can be serving digital ads to the right people, even down to the right geo target and geo fence area only to have them go to your website and give up.  Since most businesses websites are 70%+ of their entire digital presence then you need to have that optimized well before ad campaigns in addition to how you will personally interact with them.  One key piece that many agencies miss is that both Google and Facebook give you a quality or relevancy score for your ads.  The lower it is, the more you pay and the less the ad is served.  Ask you agency what your quality score on your campaigns is.  The majority of SEM “specialists” don’t even know Google publishes guidelines.  A score of 5 is the standard and the scale of increased cost is not linear.  At a score of 10 you have %50 decreased cost and at a score of 1 you have %400 increased cost.  

Within the next few year we will begin to see a more budget driven impression share metric instead of just purely CPM.  This makes more sense anyway since what you’re saying is, “I have this much to spend and I just want the best bang for the buck for that amount.”  Doesn’t that make more sense than, “how many impressions can I buy?”.  Businesses often don’t even know the questions to ask their digital marketing agencies.  Especially since many agencies hold internal process out of your sight, it’s always a risk unless you have someone you truly trust.  If you think you should be asking better questions or want better bang for your buck.  Give us a shout and we will take a look.



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Faith Kolberg - Business Development Coordinator


Enjoys the outdoors, traveling, and visiting local coffee shops! 

Lisa Annunziata - Director Of Operations


I am a God-fearing mother! I love me some cats. My family keeps me going, I love to be in the sun and just really enjoy life wherever I am and no matter the situation!

Crysta Geis - President/Founder of Ad-ios


Mom of 3 and Nana to one grandbaby so I’m obsessed with my little family whether it be at the baseball fields or on the lake my kids keep me on the go 24/7. Anytime we get away from the kids we love to travel.