Advanced Ad Server Analytics – Understanding Reach and Frequency Reports


Unique Reach

The concept of ‘uniqueness’ is an important consideration in ad server reporting. Impressions reported in the basic aggregated reporting “impressions” column are really gross impressions (to steal a term from the financial world) where as some Advertisers are interested in actual impressions or to be more specific: Unique Impressions. The number of unique impressions will be significantly lower than the number of total impressions, since it will only count the number of unique users or cookieID’s that are exposed to an ad. In third party ad serving this is called “Reach”; the total number of unique impressions. Unique reach can be controlled by the media buying process (requesting from the Publisher to only purchase space based on its unique viewing) and the creative targeting process. Creative targeting is used to ensure that either the previously encountered users are not shown any ad by the Advertiser, or are shown a different creative from the creative that they have already seen. This can easily be setup by the trafficker using ad server retargeting.

Unique reach reporting can also be setup to see if the campaign is being delivered to a growing new audience over a set period of time. The report can extend beyond the insight of new unique users being delivered ads to also see if existing users are becoming new clickers, engagers or converters as a result of  adjustments to the media plan to obtain new reach.


Average Frequency

Another of the most common metrics is the “frequency” or the number of impressions that saw an ad more than once, more than twice and so on. At an ad level inside reporting the trafficker can include the column “average frequency” for an ad or creative. This will show how often unique cookieIDs are being bombarded with the same ad or creative. This is an important metric since a high frequency can have a negative impact in campaign performance and truly tarnish a brand image, while a low frequency can cause the campaign to have a lower impact. The frequency can be controlled by the frequency cap setting at the ad and audience levels (as well as on the Publisher ad server by the Publisher ad ops team) and keeping an eye on this metric avoids creative fatigue  for the user.

Effective Frequency

Effective or optimal frequency checks at which frequency level the frequency cap should be set to optimize the number of conversions, engagements or clicks for a specific ad, placement, site or campaign (and similar to the time to convert report). Just as with the time to convert report, the Optimal Frequency report will present an optimum point followed by a drop off. However it is not advised to set the frequency cap at the point of drop-off but instead to consider setting the cap a little earlier or later depending on the goal. This consideration should be made at both a creative and site level to determine which sites or creative might require a lower frequency to maintain the target goal. The following goals can be mapped onto optimal frequency reports so that it is clear what the optimum frequency level should be:

  • Maximum number of total conversions
  • Highest ROI output or CPA – determined by the extended data revenue output or the cost input data on the package level (bearing in mind that an Advertiser would achieve the lowest CPA on the first impression/frequency because any subsequent exposure per user increases the cost per acquisition).
  • Maximum CTR
  • Maximum engagement rate or dwell
  • Maximum number of specific interactions
  • Optimum uplift in conversions in a separate channel (by combining with channel by channel uplift reporting)
  • Optimum unique reach

This last goal consideration is the most common pairing for optimal frequency. When the two metrics of reach and frequency are combined, an advanced aggregated report emerges: the Reach and Frequency report.


Reach and Frequency Report

The two metrics together are inversely related controls for ad spend because with a limited advertising budget only a limited number of impressions can be shown. This means either showing the same ad to total users just once or showing the same ad many times to a smaller group. This report is aggregated to show the number of new users reached at a given level of frequency.

Reach and Frequency reports need a larger data sample than a single day in order to perform the right calculations. Typically reach and frequency reports cannot be pulled daily from the ad server but rather can be pulled weekly. With a full week’s worth of data across the campaign, better optimization decisions can be made by the trafficker since it will typically take several days to establish a baseline from which to diminish frequency or improve reach. If new goals are set to increase unique reach, the report can be used to see if at the same or lower frequencies, the campaign goals are being affected.


Adjusted Unique

Since cookie deletion cannot be avoided, the IAB has approved the use of a metric called “Adjusted Unique” which counts the number of unique impressions to calculate unique reach while accounting for a percentage of users that delete their cookies. In particular, the Sizmek ad server allows analysts to pull this metric where-ever unique reach is used, such as in combination with frequency or determine a more realistic view on total unique conversions.

To find out more about ad server reporting types and the value of ad server analytics and their metrics across big data sets, buy a copy of my book: Ad Serving Technology – Understand the Marketing revelation that commercialized the Internet – available now from..

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