As digital marketers and agencies seek to fully understand the power of the display/search one-two punch to drive sales, there remains a void waiting to be filled by tools that can aggregate measurement for both in a single solution. Ultimately, the industry is craving something that will not only track results across numerous media and touchpoints, but enable advertisers to fine-tune campaigns and adjust allocations on the fly to optimize impact.
Unified tracking can get us closer, but there are few off-the-shelf solutions. Setting up the proper protocols and making sense of the data is a fine art, especially while the tools are still evolving.
In theory, unified tracking enables us to track results at the user level, to know where and when they saw an ad and when the conversion took place - the long tail of the cumulative results of search and display. The problem is there can be a great deal of overlap, and it's tough to measure the actual tipping point of what pushed the customer over the edge to buy.
Display relies on view-through attribution, measuring how many times they saw the ad, then perhaps purchased at a later time.
Search is almost entirely click-through, measuring only immediate gratification. Often search ends up taking the credit for the sale because it's the last-mile medium, but it's likely that display played just as pivotal a role - we just can't see it in the results.
Unified tracking lets you see all the given touchpoints before the user converts and gives a better overall picture of the effectiveness of the display/search mix. This is the Holy Grail of digital advertising: a single platform that manages and measures search and display concurrently and conditionally. While there are tools that are coming along in their capacity to handle this tall order, interpreting the results still requires some finesse and expertise.
To achieve unified tracking, look for a display platform that delivers all the functionality of an ad server with frequency capping and display metrics, then marry this to a search management platform that is mature and offers all the necessary functionality. Map out well in advance the data to be collected and analyzed: views, searches, clicks. Make sure that your two chosen solutions are able to share cookies (assuming they are separate) so you can measure every consumer touchpoint.
Once you're tracking both display and search in concert, making sense of the data requires a bit of tinkering. Look for user behavioral trends to determine the "sweet spot" for the number of impressions by comparing search data with clicks.
For example, if it takes more than five impressions to prompt one search, perhaps you're wasting impressions. Do you see an uptick in searches based on a strong run of display in a particular region? By adjusting frequency and placement, you can tweak and test the variables on the display side to see what kind of impact this has on search - and vice versa.
While the ability to make mid-stream campaign adjustments is a key tactical benefit, ultimately, the strategic goal of unified tracking is the ability to allocate budgets as efficiently as possible and, in doing so, we may finally demonstrate the quantitative impact of display on search.
Theoretically, we know that display kicks up the dust and search vacuums it up. But, with hard numbers to shed light on this symbiotic relationship, digital marketers are better able to back up display strategies to their clients or CMO and better allocate dollars on both sides of the equation.