Frequency Capping

What is Frequency Capping?

Frequency capping involves looking at the performance of your ads and trying to determine when they lose their effectiveness. By capping their display shorting before they reach that point, your business can achieve a better ROI on your marketing efforts. As we'll see, there are a number of levels of granularity that frequency capping can operate at.

Today's big data analytics provide plenty of tools to gather the metrics needed to find and fine-tune an optimal point for the capping. We'll discuss how to optimize frequency capping in greater detail later.

Why is Frequency Capping Important?

It's important to set a frequency cap on your advertising because it becomes counterproductive at some point. Customers are flooded with ads all day every day and have mostly learned to tune them out. The ads that get people's attention will be the ones they haven't seen before. After someone has seen the same ad several times over the past few days, their mind doesn't even acknowledge it anymore. 

Figuring out how to stand out amongst the noise in the attention economy has become a major problem for businesses. Frequency capping is one way to ensure that the ads making it in front of potential customers' eyeballs are fresh. Depending on the strategy being used, a different ad may be shown to that viewer, or the money saved to display an ad to someone else.

How Does Frequency Capping Work?

The basic concept of frequency capping is simple; track how many times a viewer has seen an ad and stop showing it after a certain point. The details get a lot more specific though. When companies deploy frequency capping, they must take the three factors discussed below into consideration. 

The Capping Method

This has the most potential for experimentation, due to the many ways in which frequency can be capped. The capping method determines what frequency metric will be used to determine the capping. With enough data to drive informed decisions, a complex combination of the elements listed below can be used to maximize ROI. 

  • Impression frequency capping - This method looks only at the total number of impressions an ad has generated to determine when it should be capped. This is independent of the number of unique viewers that the ad has been shown to. Because some ads may be shown on the bottom of a page and never viewed by a potential customer, it's also independent of views. This is the simplest, but least precise method of capping.
  • View frequency capping - With view frequency capping, the number of times a given person has been shown the ad is counted. After they've seen the ad a certain number of times, they're either shown a different one or no ad at all. This type of capping provides a slighter deeper level of granularity than frequency capping.
  • Time capping - A business may find that its ads perform better at a certain time of the day. Time capping will ensure that the ad is only shown during the periods where it is most effective. A similar concept is dayparting or weekparting. These also set aside specific hours of the day or days of the week to show the ad. Though they tend to focus less on calculated effectiveness and more on relevance; for example, a breakfast ad running past the time that breakfast is served is likely a waste of money.

The Capping Structure

For a single ad campaign, the capping structure is simple. However, campaigns often run on a more complicated structure. Once the frequency for a specific ad is reached, will all ads cease, or will another take its place? When will the entire collection of ads in a given campaign be capped? Maybe the entire advertiser will take a break, especially during the off hours of a time cap. 

The capping structure takes into account the different levels at which an advertiser is running ads and the different ways in which those ads can be capped. With the right combination, all of those factors will play a role in providing the greatest ROI for the marketing budget. 

The Timeframe

With the exception of time capping, we've only talked about when the ads stop. At some point, they'll need to resume again. How long after a frequency cap pause should pass before that happens? Hours? Days? Weeks? More? This is an important decision because waiting too long to resume the ads could have just as negative an impact on ROI as not capping them at all. 

How to Determine the Optimal Frequency Cap?

To get the most benefit from ads, it's important not to cap them too early or too late. Unfortunately, the optimal frequency cap will vary depending on a number of factors. The buyer personas of different products by different brands will have different tolerances to ads. Those tolerances will differ based on the type of ad being presented, the tone and messaging of the ad, and more.

Because of all the variables involved, there's no single optimal limit that works well for every campaign. Instead, advertisers must rely on the data they've collected to determine the frequency capping schedules.

Measure Effectiveness vs Frequency

Every ad platform provides extensive analytics that can help determine what a good frequency capping limit is. The first step is to decide on what metric will be counted; for example, clicks or conversions. Then organize the data on the factors listed below. As you look at the day, pay attention to any patterns that develop.

  • Impressions
  • Views
  • Time

Do conversions dry up after the ad has run for a number of days? After a certain number of views? If so, these make obvious timeframes to consider setting a frequency limit. From there, you can run experiments. If you change the ad out at the frequency limit, do conversions improve during that time? Experiments like this will help you narrow down the structure to use for your frequency capping.

Measure Effectiveness vs Time of Day

Like the variables listed above, checking on the time of day that ads perform best can help you get an idea of how to approach time capping or dayparting. Keep in mind that your ads might have fewer impressions during some times of the day. Looking at raw numbers might not provide an accurate picture of how the ad is doing during those times.

Always look at the percentage of clicks or conversions to impressions or views. Doing so can tell you which time of day it's safe to cut the ad, but may also tell you what times it might be a good idea to boost the ad spend.

Continually Refine

As with most other things in marketing, frequency capping isn't a set-it-and-forget-it method. Every ad in every campaign will have different optimums. While they may be similar to similar ads from previous campaigns, those numbers should only be considered a starting point. By running the data on every campaign, you can ensure that you stay ahead of any changes.

This is true even if you bring an identical campaign back. The time of year, changing market landscape, and other factors that are different between runs of the campaign may have changed the ideal frequency limit.

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