How to Improve the CTR on Your Programmatic Ads

Using software to purchase digital advertising (online display, social media advertising, mobile and video campaigns etc.) isn't new, though many companies are still learning the nuances of how to make this advertising approach pay off.


Very often, even when an audience is very precisely defined, programmatic campaigns do not always play out as advertisers expect.


Properly setting expectations is critical. What can reasonably be expected from a programmatic campaign is different than what can be expected from the online advertising approaches that businesses are accustomed to, especially since programmatic campaigns can be run at different points in the sales cycle.


Programmatic campaigns are used for two main purposes - to develop a BRAND or to ASSIST with CONVERSIONS. Let's explore both. 



When someone has never heard of a company or product, the primary advertising objective is usually to increase awareness of what the product does or what the company offers. Those folks aren't in a sales funnel at all because a) they don't know that the company or product exists and/or b) they aren't currently seeking the solutions that the brand provides.


If they go looking for a specific service or type of merchandise, that's where SEO or PPC come into the picture. If their intent is to find someone with the expertise a company offers, and that company is easy to find in a search engine, then all that company needs to do is capture their contact information and stay in front of them until they buy. (As if that's easily done!)


If a potential prospect isn't actively looking, it doesn't mean they wouldn't have any interest in a brand. A creative ad that speaks to their concerns may very well pique their curiosity and prompt a click - and now there's another person at the very top of the brand's sales funnel.



Programmatic can also be employed very effectively to help those new leads become better acquainted with a company and lead them further along the sales funnel.


A primary way to do this is through retargeting, which allows marketers to show ads to people who have demonstrated interest in a brand. They do this by visiting certain pages on a brand website, adding pages to a shopping cart, opening emails, or engaging with the brand in other ways that trigger the display of retargeting ads. The ads that are shown can be triggered based on the actions people perform.


Retargeting is an excellent way to stay in front of people who are slightly familiar with a brand, even after they've left the website and even if they didn't opt in for the lead magnet.


Unfortunately, a common mistake is that advertisers treat those "never-heard-of-the-company-before" prospects the same way as they treat the "somewhat-familiar-with-the-company" prospects. They expect to show the same ads, use the same calls-to-action, send visitors to the same landing pages, and get the same ROI.


The secret to improving the click-through rate (CTR) of your programmatic advertising, then, is to make sure the right person sees the right ad, depending on whether the goal is brand building or conversions.


Success in identifying and locating appropriate audience (the "right" people) depends not only on understanding their demographics, but on the practicalities of being able to reach those people. If a company doesn't have their own audience to market to (such as existing customers or newsletter subscribers), or that group is very small, they need to get that data from somewhere.


Typically, this third-party data is purchased from companies who aggregate user data and sell access to targeted segments, such as BlueKai (Oracle). The volume of data is enormous; however, it is widely accessible to competitors, business owners cannot be certain where the data came from, nor do they know how old or how accurate it is.


If they are very fortunate, they may be able to use second-party data, which is information shared directly with the company by the original collectors of the information. Associations are an example of premium second-party data sources; access to a highly-targeted group such as members of a professional association is one ingredient in making sure that CTRs are high.


Ad creative, message, and call-to-action must be tailored to the audience identified and their position in the sales funnel. The better this is done, the better the CTR will be also.


If a brand owner is trying to increase awareness of their brand, their ads first need to catch the attention of people who may be browsing websites or social media. They need to be visually appealing, highly focused on a benefit to that audience, and the call-to-action needs to match their interest level. For example, "Learn More" will get more clicks than "Join Today" or "Free Trial" if they're unfamiliar with the product or company.


If the audience member knows a little about the brand - they've visited the website, for example - the programmatic campaigns that are deployed can be less focused on general awareness and more focused on getting someone to act. Someone who's gone so far as to put a product in a shopping cart needs to see a different message than someone who's never heard of the product. That prospective buyer might respond to a "Save 10%" or "Free Shipping" offer.


One of the most common reasons for low CTR on programmatic ads is that brands want to use the same ads for both initial awareness campaigns and secondary conversion campaigns - and it simply doesn't work very well.


Ad sizes and specifications also have a role in CTR - for example, ensuring that ads are available in mobile-friendly sizes is critical to making sure that they are seen.


A Radically Different Way

Showing digital ads on websites or social media platforms - automatically, without ever talking to a person at all - is a radically different way to find customers than the advertising many companies are used to.  The better that advertisers understand the rationale behind programmatic advertising and tailor campaigns accordingly, the better their campaigns will perform for them.


About the Authors

Marcus Cudd and Diana Ratliff are with SearchworxX, a performance digital marketing agency that specializes in advanced digital marketing for growing brands. They partner with associations to create specialized B2B target segments in their programmatic platform.