It’s not uncommon to see companies spend tens of thousands of dollars each and every month on running Google, Facebook, and Instagram ads. Unfortunately, not all of these companies have a strong understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes and if their media budgets are really being used wisely.

And no, we absolutely don’t fault companies for finding themselves in this position. As the years go by, the complexity of much-used ad platforms is only growing. Alas, this very complexity is also what makes it difficult to know if the way campaigns are set up, not to mention being actively managed, is letting you optimize your marketing spend.

We’re going to cover a few common areas that frequently go awry, and hopefully give you some better visibility into how to really “kick the tires” when it comes to vetting your paid media management.

Why You Should Care About This Even If You’re Using A Paid Media Agency

Trust but verify is a mantra we believe everyone should live and breath. This means you should feel empowered and able to verify that anyone managing your paid media, whether it be an internal or external person, knows what they’re doing.

This doesn’t mean being becoming an expert first! It means knowing just enough that you know what questions to ask, and how to ask them. The responses you get to your questions, and how data driven they are, will let you understand if your campaigns are in good hands…or if they need some additional assistance.

How To Assess If You’re On The Right Paid Media Ad Platform

First things first, you need to decide which platforms are right for your business. The best way to back into this is to know what your marketing needs are. Do you need to meet existing demand, or do you need to create new demand?

Fulfilling Existing Demand: There are some product or service categories that are so well-known and understood that there is an active set of customers for them. The ideal example we like to give is toilet paper. You know what it is, you know when you need it, and you know where to look for it. Vendors selling toilet paper know there is demand for their products. This means they are looking to fill existing demand and get people to choose their brand.

Creating New Demand: In niche categories, or completely new categories, there may not be existing demand. For instance, ten years ago, most people didn’t think about renting a room in a stranger’s home for the night. Yet, this is exactly what AirBnB was offering. Vendors like this have a marketing job that’s all about creating new demand. That is, getting people to want something they may not know they wanted.

Search engine channels like Bing or Google Ads are great if you are trying to meet existing demand. These platforms let you serve ads to people actively searching for your product category. However, if no one is currently looking for what you do, you’ll never get new customers this way.

Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are great at fostering new demand. Presumably you have a core customer in mind for your product. These platforms let you serve ads to targeted audiences that meet your customer profile, letting you generate demand. Sure, they can let you meet existing demand too…but sometimes not so cost effectively.

In sum: If you’re working in a completely new category, don’t expect Google Ads to be where you win big. On the flip side, if you’re working in an established category, you’re likely leaving money behind by just investing in prospecting platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook.

How To Assess If Your Platforms Are Set Up Correctly

Once you’ve established that you’re using the right platforms, there’s a lot to explore within the platforms themselves. Again, we don’t expect you to be the one poking around in every nook and cranny. Instead, we expect you to be able to ask direct questions that will give you peace of mind that everything is running smoothly. Not sure what to ask? Here’s a tried and true list.

What type of conversions are being tracked?

You need to be crystal clear that your team is tracking the activity that you really care about. If you’re running paid ads to grow revenue, drive new leads, or something else entirely, it’s those very discrete things your platforms need to be set to track automatically.

Other platforms like Google Analytics can always be used to track other types of behavior (e.g. time on site, repeat site visits, content downloads, etc.). However, your ad platforms should be honed in on those key conversion activities that really matter to your business.

What locations are being targeted?

Unless otherwise specified, ads often default to being sent to people everywhere using any kind of device. That means you could be serving ads to Urdu speakers in India…all while your ads are in English and transactions can only happen in the US.

You need to set clear targeting parameters upfront that define the geography and language settings for your ads. Further, you may want to consider serving ads on only certain types of devices (i.e. desktop-only) if your web experience is better in one screen type versus another.

What audiences or keywords are being targeted?

How can you be sure if your ads are being seen by the right people? After all, if you’re taking a customer-centric view to your adverting (and you should!) you’d only want your ads to be shown to people who you think would most benefit from your product or service.

Depending on the platform, this is based on keyword or audience targeting.

Keyword Targeting: Relevant to search advertising on Google and Bing, keywords refer to the types of search queries that will result in your ads appearing. We like to think of keyword targeting like a bullseye with concentric rings. You want to structure your ads to serve when someone’s search hits the bullseye (i.e. is exactly what you sell), but you also should consider serving ads that are related but quite as spot-on.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you sell red velvet hats. If someone searches for velvet red hats, you want your ad to appear. That’s the bullseye. Now, let’s say someone is searching for red hats. They might be open to a velvet red hat, or they might not. It’s a close match and it might work, but it might not. This is one concentric circle out from the bullseye. And lastly, let’s say someone is searching for head coverings. Technically a red velvet hat would fit this criteria…but so could so many other things. This is the last circle out on the bullseye. It might work, but chances are it won’t.

There’s a lot more that goes into keyword targeting. But this is the most basic foundation. Knowing how your keyword targeting is set up will let you visualize if you’re following this bullseye approach or not.

Audience Targeting: Relevant to prospecting channels like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, audience targeting relies on using demographic and psychographic information to determine who should see your ads. The bullseye approach works here, but in a slightly different way.

This time around, let’s say you sell skateboarding video games typically purchased by boys between the ages of 10-12. With audience targeting, you’d set up an audience that builds a pool of prospective ad viewers that meet this criteria. That’s your bullseye. You’d then consider ads to a similar audience, but perhaps change up the age range, or remove a filter for liking skateboarding. This will let you cast a wider net (i.e. hit those outer concentric circles) that may or may not pay off.

Again, there’s a lot more that goes into audience targeting. However, understanding how your audiences are set up, and which discrete groups are being targeted, will give you strong visibility into whether a customer-centric approach is applied to your paid media campaigns.

What’s the strategy behind the ad creatives being used?

Typical paid media ads include text and, depending on the platform, static images and video too. There should be ample thought that goes into how these ad units are designed. While there are several strategic approaches, there are a few that are most common:

Keyword alignment: For search-based ads in Google and Bing, ads should strongly mirror the keywords being targeted. This helps a searcher clearly see the alignment between their query and the ad, and should result in higher clicks.

Persona targeting: If you’re serving ads to unique audiences or personas, your ads should reflect that. This could mean using different value propositions and visuals that you know will better resonate with each distinct persona.

Message testing: Perhaps you’re not sure exactly which value propositions are most compelling. Or, maybe you’re not sure what tone to use. If that’s the case, your ads could be developed to test these things out.

While there are several reasonable ways to think about building ad creative, the point is you should be able to see a very clear reason behind how ads were built.

What types of ads are resonating best with our audiences?

Now we get into testing how metrics-driven your ad campaigns really are.

One of the clearest ways to see if ads are resonating with those that see it is by looking at their click-thru-rate (CTR). This is a metric that’s present in every ad platform, and is a strong way of measuring if your ads are compelling and aligning with what your audience wants.

Anyone managing your campaigns should be able to tell you what your CTRs are. Further, they should be able to share how your CTRs vary by ad type. After all, if you’re serving different ads to do persona targeting or message testing, you’ll want to see how they stack up.

Which audiences AND ads are yielding the most conversions?

You’ll want to know that both macro and micro elements of your campaigns are being reviewed regularly to help drive strong results. Sure enough, there are way too many things that could be looked at for us to mention them here. So, we’ll just mention the most common ones: are individual ads and audience or keyword targets being reviewed and tweaked regularly.

By asking how different ads and audience/keyword targeting is performing, you’ll know your team is tracking conversions at these different levels and actively evaluating if they are able to drive strong results.

Are my campaigns a viable way of acquiring new leads & customers?

Pour enough money into something and you’ll likely get at least one customer. But, that doesn’t mean it was a cost effective way to get that customer. Paid media ads should be run with an eye toward two key business metrics: customer acquisition costs (CAC) and customer lifetime values (LTV). That is, your ads should be driving customers that have high revenue potential (i.e. lifetime value) and that are cost efficient to acquire (i.e. customer acquisition costs).

Anyone running your ads should know what your CAC and LTV goals are, and also what these values are for customers coming in from paid media channels. If they do, you know they’re thinking about your broader business goals. If they’re not, it may be a sign that they’re thinking about paid media in too narrow a way.

What are we actively testing right now?

Because it’s so metrics driven, paid media is a great way to quantitatively test ways to improve your buyer’s journey and improve your CAC. You can test everything from audiences, messaging, and visual creative to device type experiences and bidding methods…so long as your campaigns are designed to actually test these things.

As you review paid media results, you should always ask “What are we testing?” and “How are we measuring it?” This will help emphasize that you expect a constant eye towards optimization, and it’ll let you see if those optimizations are actually happening.

How to Evaluate These Answers

Here’s the simple truth about marketing: it’s not rocket science! While the in-the-weeds execution may look like rocket science (and, we’ll be honest, sometimes these platforms do make us feel like rocket scientists), the ability to explain what’s happening and why certain decisions are being made are not.

Good marketing is based on data-centric, process-driven approaches, which is great for non-marketers that want to understand what’s going on with their paid media campaigns. A marketing novice can ask the questions above while having zero paid media expertise. If the answers you receive are logical, show an understanding of who your customer is and what your business goals are, and show that data is being used to inform decisions, then there’s a good chance you’re in good hands.

On the flip side, if the answers you receive sound illogical, flimsy, or based on personal ideas, then chance are you’re not in the best of hands. Paid media is the most metrics-driven form of marketing out there. If your team isn’t following a metrics-driven methodology, it’s time to step in.