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Three Ways to Assess Performance When Year Over Year Doesn’t Work

Our Digital Marketing Report recapping 2nd quarter performance highlighted extreme year over year trends across digital media. We all knew this was coming – after the radical shifts in ecommerce traffic during Q2 of 2020, it stood to reason that Q2 2021 would essentially see a reversal in year over year trends.

paid search performance graph

Although this trend was expected, it still brings with it a measurement challenge for the many advertisers that use year over year performance as an important performance benchmark. How can we gauge success when comparisons between 2020 and 2021 simply aren’t relevant? There are three key approaches advertisers should take to assess performance when year over year figures won’t cut it.

  1. Look at a longer-term trajectory rather than strict year over year comparisons. Advertisers should look further back than 12 months to understand performance related to business-side initiatives, recognizing that March 2020 through March 2021 was heavily influenced by temporary behavioral changes. It’s more reasonable to look for growth in April/May/June 2021 compared to February 2020 versus those same months last year. Even then, though, comparisons may not be entirely relevant depending on the unique aspects of your business. A brand focused on international travel, for example, is still unlikely to be at February 2020 levels given continued restrictions and delta variant concerns across the globe.

    While the approach will differ from business to business, the keys are looking back further than usual and being thoughtful about what time period makes for a meaningful comparison. For some, this may mean ignoring 2020 data altogether for year over year comparisons and using 2019 as a more relevant baseline. If you do ultimately decide to look at 2020 dates for any year over year analysis, remember that even some individual days were anomalies compared to other years, including stimulus check dates and a later-than-usual Prime Day.
  2. Expand your definition of success with goals that build on or improve upon trends from 2020. Revenue and return on investment don’t need to be the only metrics used to determine success. Other metrics can be a greater signal of progress and growth from 2020 to 2021. For example, the increase in ecommerce traffic during the pandemic led to retail businesses capturing a lot of new customers. Set goals for retaining or driving repeat purchases from those newly captured customers to paint a clearer picture of how the business is executing in digital beyond the usual KPIs. Similarly, many businesses struggled with inventory shortages and increased order cancellation last year. Goals for improving those metrics could also be relevant for signaling a business’ improvements coming out of 2020 that might not shine through clearly in more typical KPIs.
  3. Use an omnichannel view to see the full picture of performance as customers shift online dollars to brick and mortar. Hopefully, most omnichannel advertisers already look at in-store and online performance holistically, but for those that don’t, adopting that view is even more important now. As consumers continue to shift their shopping back in store we’ll likely see offline and online revenue move in opposite directions. Looking at each area in a silo will skew the picture of what’s really happening for the business as a whole and puts you at risk of misallocating marketing dollars.

Download our Digital Marketing Report or register for our webinar to learn more about Q2’s year over year trends across paid search, organic search, Amazon, and paid social.