Early in the 2012 presidential cycle, Jonah Goodhart had already fielded calls from both the Obama and Romney campaigns. They wanted to know what Moat—the online analytics company Goodhart founded—could offer as far as tracking when and where the opponent was placing online ads.

Neither campaign ended up using any of Moat’s paid analytic and tracking options, and despite how far political campaigns have come in terms of analytics, their limited entreaties exposed a lasting shortcoming for Goodhart.

“I think the campaigns are extremely focused on direct response and so look at everything through that lens, as opposed to a brand awareness focus,” says Goodhart, whose company acts as a sort of search engine for online display ads. “A great example is the contribution emails many of us get, which are continually looking to drive clicks and direct donations. This is not a negative comment on that strategy, it’s just pointing out that they don’t seem to focus on the brand effect of their ads.”

Moat offers advanced ad analytics in an attempt to move clients beyond clicks and clickthrough rates (CTRs)—a level of analysis Goodhart says campaigns would be smart to embrace sooner rather than later. It’s something brand marketers have already come around to.

Take a company like Proctor & Gamble. The majority of its sales are offline, so a web ad might not result in a click or online purchase. But that doesn’t mean a viewer didn’t go out and purchase one of the company’s products because of the ad. In that case, you need a different metric to gauge whether or not that ad was truly effective.

Let’s apply that to campaigns. Picture advanced metrics tying political ads to the size of donations or even polling numbers. What if you were able to quantify which aspects of an online ad pushed donors to give more? Or, better yet, what if you could connect online efforts to shifts in the polls? That might be a little ambitious at the moment, says Goodhart, but that’s exactly where he thinks things are headed.

Out With the Old
After the 2012 cycle, there’s no question that fully-integrated digital teams are in. Well run campaigns understand the need for digital efforts that work with and boost the efficiency of all other aspects of the operation. The challenge is finding the right analytics to help achieve the end goal.

The most widely accepted language of persuasion is spoken by media strategists and media buyers. Gross rating points (GRPs), cost per impression (CPM), reach and frequency—all concepts strategists can easily wrap their brains and their media plans around. But how to better quantify reach and frequency online? How about clicks and measures of online engagement?

We’ve come a long way in eight years, says Nicco Mele, who helped chart the course of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 online effort. Even back then, it was easy enough to talk in terms of CTRs, open rates, average gifts and frequency of gifts as it related to the online fundraising operation.

The metrics were employed around email acquisition and conversion—deciphering what prompted supporters to give. Fast forward to the past two election cycles and the Obama campaign has taken fundraising analytics much further by introducing more sophisticated testing and evaluation in the form of email list segmentation.
The real problem says Mele, is that the Internet is great at raising money for campaigns but really bad at persuading undecided voters, and that’s where the metrics need work.

“The Internet is really well understood for fundraising. It’s well understood for GOTV and field,” Mele says. “It’s not well understood for persuasion. That’s the Holy Grail. That’s what we’ve got to figure out.”

Online, the ad cost per thousand views is irrelevant, says Mele, but that’s where viewership is increasingly headed. In September of last year, Targeted Victory teamed up with SAY Media, Chong & Koster and pollsters Neil Newhouse and Thomas Eldon to study the media consumption habits of voters. They found that 31 percent of likely voters hadn’t watched live TV the week prior. That number was closer to 40 percent in the swing state of Ohio.

“Until we [create an ideal representation of persuasiveness online], reach and frequency are pretty important,” Mele says.

In With the New
For Goodhart, reach is only a valuable online metric if it can be identified as effective reach. The level of attention paid to any given website varies by ZIP code, and the level of attention paid to any given ad on a webpage varies by placement. Every detail matters, and analytics prove it.

For campaigns, it starts by being responsive, says Colin Delany of epolitics.com. If you are “running Google ads or Facebook ads but not allocating resources to the ones doing well or seeing where the message is resonating,” then you’re doing it wrong, Delany says.

Moat pushes advertisers and publishers to look past traditional metrics like CTRs. The average CTR for a web ad is somewhere in the ballpark of .03, but Goodhart believes there’s value to many ads even if no one’s clicking. CTRs may fit the direct-response world, but they’re limiting. Instead, Moat tracks mouse-overs and measures how long it takes for a user to click or scroll away—essentially gauging an ad’s effectiveness within its surroundings.