Online ad terminology for political campaigns and beyond


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Ever wonder what a CPC, CPM, CTR or CPV is? Or maybe you are confused about what remarketing actually does? Every industry has their own terminology with corresponding acronyms, and online advertising is no different. Here is our compilation of some beginner online ad terms and how they might apply to political campaigns:

Performance Metrics

The number of times your ad is shown across the web. For many types of ads you pay a cost per thousand impressions.

A click occurs when a user sees and clicks your ad, leading him or her to your website. Just because your ad shows up on a webpage doesn’t necessarily mean that the person on the other end saw your ad.

Sometimes it can take many impressions of a single ad before a person even notices it—whether they click is another question entirely.

Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM)
The average cost per thousand impressions. CPMs will vary depending on the type of ad you run—display ads are cheaper than pre-roll. Search ads are usually based on a cost-per-click charge.

Cost-Per-Click (Avg. CPC)
The average amount you pay each time someone clicks your ad. Average CPC is determined by totalling the cost of all clicks and dividing it by the number of clicks.

CPC style of ads ensures that you only pay when someone clicks your ad, essentially making impressions free. The downside to this is that some networks will pause serving your ad if it’s not getting clicks.

A conversion is the number of people who follow through with an action after clicking your ad.

Sometimes with political campaigns, it can be difficult to determine what a conversion should be for an online ad campaign—with businesses it’s a little bit easier. Traditionally, this means that after clicking on an ad, a person purchases a product from the company doing the advertising—for political campaigns, a conversion could be someone signing up for emails or donating to the campaign.


The network that an ad runs on refers to the website serving the ad.

A network could be PandoraTwitterFacebookGoogle or Yahoo!Google and Yahoo! have countless websites that buy-in to their services to allow campaigns and businesses to advertise on their sites. In the case of Pandora, Twitter and Facebook, ads placed on those networks only serve within those platforms—i.e., a Pandora ad will only be seen within Pandora.

The device refers to the type of technological instrument a person sees the ad on: Mobile phones, desktop computers and tablets are the most common.

Different networks allow us to target specific devices. Targeting by device is useful because ads can be segmented and optimized for a particular device (mobile banner ads are a different size than a desktop banner ad). Results can also be segmented by device to analyze results better.

In recent ad campaigns, we saw considerably higher click through rates for ads that were optimized for mobile phones. There are probably a few reasons for this—accidental clicks, or perhaps it’s simply harder to avoid an ad on such a small screen and as a result, people are paying more attention.

To better hone targeting for online ads, we typically use geo-targeting for the campaigns we work on. This allows you to target ads specifically to people who live within a particular region. This could be a city, state, country, or even as granular as a zip code. Google also allows for radius targeting where you target a region within a chosen number of miles of a specific target.

Geo-targeting usually targets ads based on a user’s IP address—which can be inaccurate if someone lives in a certain zip code but their IP address is based in another.

These are the top words or phrases that describe the campaign, website or product that is being advertised. Keywords need to be closely aligned with words in text ads and landing pages. A campaign should use keywords as often as possible in outward communication (Facebook posts, blog posts, emails, etc.).

Keywords used in an ad campaign get “graded” by Google based on how well they align with the ads in the campaign, website and landing page and receive a “quality score.”

Contextual targeting is essentially setting up a display ad campaign to target people based on keywords. The thing to note here is that contextual targeting aims ads at people not only on Google searches using one of the set keywords, but it will also place your ad next to content on other websites using the same keywords.

For example, if you use the keyword “ice cream” in the targeting for your ad, it could show up on a website that has “ice cream” in its content, as long as your bid on that specific keyword matches or beats your competitors.

This refers to targeting specific websites where you want your ad to show up.

Say you want to make sure your ad in Google Adwords shows up on the Huffington Post. You would add that website to your placement list and adjust the bid accordingly. We typically recommend adding in as many relevant placements as possible and to work with your bid to make sure your ads show up where you want them (Huffington Post historically has really high bids). The term placement can also refer to direct buying ads on specific websites through the publisher.

Not all websites allow ads to be placed on them. Usually a quick search on the site will uncover Google Display Network ads or using the Adwords Placement tool.

Audience and Topic Based Targeting
One of the easiest ways to make sure your campaign has a wide enough targeting universe is to use audience or topic based targeting in your Adwords campaign. When setting this up, you select to target people based on their interests and browsing habits.

For example, if you are selling books you could target people who are interested in or search for literature. This type of targeting can be helpful when you are running a political campaign in a very small targeted area and have very few optimal keywords at your disposal.

In a nutshell, remarketing is cookie-based ad targeting.

Once you add a remarketing code to your website, you have set up an audience in Adwords that you can then target ads with. Whenever someone visits your site (via the ads or not) their browser gets a cookie, or a tag, placed on it. You can then set up an Adwords campaign that allows you to only target that remarketed audience. This campaign will then serve ad impressions only to people who have been tagged with your remarketing code. It’s best to set up remarketing early so that you can grow your list over time.

You’ve been remarketed through ads whenever you shopped for shoes online and then received ads for those same shoes all over the Internet for the next month.

Optimization Tools

With networks like Google, Bing and Facebook, you set a dollar amount that you would like to pay for a CPM or CPC, on an ad-by-ad or keyword-by-keyword basis. This is your bid. Bids compete against other marketers who are advertising in the same network, using a similar targeting universe. Your actual CPC or CPM will either be at or below your bid, depending on how well you compete against others using the same criteria. If you bid is lower than competitors’ bids, your ad will either serve less impressions or not receive the top position on the page.

Average Position
Through Google, this rates the average place on a web page that your ad appears. You typically want to get the first position, as this usually means that your ad is seen “above the fold” and that the user didn’t have to scroll through the page to see the ad. You can affect ad position by adjusting a bid or making sure your keywords are better aligned to your ad and your website.

Quality Score
The quality score is based on a correlation between clicks on your ads and the keywords used in your ad campaign. If you use a particular keyword that gets lots of clicks, your quality score for that keyword should be pretty good. However, if you use a keyword that isn’t very well related to your campaign, and gets you no clicks, the quality score for that keyword will likely be quite low.

The quality score plays a huge role in determining whether or not your ads are served. If you consistently get low quality scores, Google can penalize your entire Google Adwords account—quality score is basically Google’s way of making sure you use relevant keywords. Make sure keywords in your ad campaign match content on your website, and more importantly, your landing page!

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