The Optimisation Continuum It’s a frequently over-used term, but what does ‘optimisation’ actually mean? Gavin Stirrat, global MD at Voluum, explains why you need to rethink your understanding of one of marketing’s most vital concepts
ave you ever scrolled through the newsfeed on your favourite social media site, and felt as though you are missing out? Not just on the polished, fabulous lives of your friends and family, but on the actual content that others seem to be seeing? That’s an optimisation algorithm in action, a process that dictates not only which status updates, photos, news stories and ads should be displayed to you, but precisely how many of each of them there should be, in order to maximise your engagement and continued potential for clicking. Optimisation – the branch of mathematics concerned with finding the inputs to a function that produce its highest output – plays a prominent role in nearly every field of science, technology and business. It has been employed in digital media and advertising almost since its inception. The principle is that you take competing variables and attempt to reach a Pareto efficient state, or the point at which no variable could be improved without weakening another: an optimal outcome.
The rise of optimisation The term started to gain prominence in
the mid 1990s, as search engines such as AltaVista, Infoseek and Yahoo grew in popularity. In 2001 a little-known startup called Google launched its search Toolbar, and SEO (search engine optimisation) took off. For the past 15 years, optimisation in digital display has largely followed these same dark arts. Plug your variables into a
best performing clickthrough rate (CTR), the system could happily start spending budget on placements that are causing accidental fat-finger clicks or, worse, deliberately fraudulent sites. A badly designed algorithm would not take these additional nuances into consideration. Things have remained this way because tech vendors have done a good
“THE OPTIMISATION ALGORITHM IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE RULES IT IS GIVEN – PROVIDED BY US MERE MORTALS” black box and out come the best results, based on a predefined set of rules, which more often than not are completely unknown to the advertiser paying the bill.
Limitations The challenge with this approach is that even the simplest functions can give rise to surprisingly complex solutions. And the optimisation algorithm is only as good as the rules it is given – which are provided by us mere mortals. For example, if you tell the algorithm to optimise towards the
job of marketing the ‘secret sauce’ that delivers the magic on their platform and buyers have believed in the power of the algorithm to achieve the right result, as it often will. However, by taking this approach alone, you only see the outcome of the optimisation, and never the triggers that caused these positive changes. In addition, many buy-side platforms have their reporting and trafficking as separate systems. This means that if you see something interesting in reporting, you have to go back into the trafficking
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