This article will show you everything you need to know about media buying.

From targeting the right audience to generating insights from data, you’ll have everything you need to start setting up profitable advertising campaigns.

If you’re new to media buying and want a crash-course on how the practice works, this is for you.

And if you’re a veteran? There’s plenty of gems for you to optimize and scale your current approach.

What is Media Buying?

Media buying is an ad management practice that focuses on the acquisition of media “real estate” through various platforms and traffic sources.

These sources include Google Ads, Facebook Ads, as well as programmatic ad networks like The Trade Desk and others that act as a middleman between advertisers and publishers.

Traditionally, media buyers must possess these three skills in order to effectively manage their ad campaigns:

  1. Networking: Media buyers must establish, nurture and maintain relationships with publishers and networks alike. Media buying is a competitive sport. Strong relationships will go a long way when securing the ideal placement at a great deal.
  2. Investigation: Media buyers must keep their finger on the pulse of the market — identifying new and emerging platforms, publishers and networks to expand and scale their media buying campaigns.
  3. Negotiation: Oftentimes, advertising campaigns are made directly with the publisher or channel owner. Therefore, the media buyer must have strong negotiating skills to get a fair and profitable deal.

So, how do you set up a media buying strategy? What’s the framework your advertising campaigns should follow?

Let’s dig into the four-step process to establishing, optimizing and scaling great media buying campaigns.

1. Preparation: Doing Your Research & Building Foundations

This first stage is the most important, and is where most of the work is done.

Without doing proper research and setting the right objectives, your media buying campaign is at risk of failure.

The first and most important step, therefore, is understanding your target market.

Researching Your Audience

Who is your target audience and how do the differ by medium?

There are several ways to define the target audience of your media buying strategy:

  • Geo: This can be key, depending on your target, as it can often define the ad network and channels you target. Test on a small scale first by targeting areas with cheaper traffic. That way, you’ll know if your creative works before rolling out to your tier 1 geos.
  • Customer Segments: Which of your personas are you looking to attract? By having clearly defined customer personas, you can match your audience to the offers that are most likely to attract them.
  • Behavior: You can also target customers based on their behaviors, e.g. those who have visited your website in the last 6 months.
  • All of the Above: Of course, using a combination of the factors above is often the best way to reach a highly targeted audience that will help you reach your business goals.

Knowing who you’re targeting is key for matching your offering to the right people. Clearly define who you’re aiming to attract before going any further.

This is where consumer insights also come into play. By researching through sources like Google Trends, Statista and our own SpotRight platform, you can generate valuable insights on the affinities, interests and psychographic profile of your target audience. Take a look at the snippet from a SpotRight insights report below:

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Choosing Audience Segments & Offering

Your target audience may also determine the route your media buying strategy takes. Identifying your segments generally falls into one of two camps: syndicated audiences or custom audiences.

Syndicated audiences are things that you can typically use for targeting  in a marketing platform, like gender, age range, geographic location or in some cases, interests. For example, you could go into a platform like Facebook and choose to target people age 30-45 with an interest in science.

  • The advantage in syndicated audiences is that they are fast and easy to use, and allow you to get started right away.
  • The disadvantage in using syndicated audiences is that everyone else is pulling the same levers to target their campaign audiences, so you’re likely hitting people who are being bombarded with campaign after campaign.

Another targeting option is to use custom audiences. These are audiences that are specific to you and your campaign, and can be built in a number of ways. Folks who are lucky enough to have an analytics team in house can have analysts create a custom model to find people who are most likely to become a customer. For those of us without our own analytics team, you can hire companies to build these models and segments for you.

  • The advantage of going this route is that you’re not targeting the same people everyone else is targeting, and you’re probably hitting people people who are more likely to become a customer than using syndicated segments.
  • The downside? Time and money. It takes time (often several weeks if you use an outside service provider) to create the model and audiences, and that work is not done inexpensively. It can be a considerable investment.

A better option, in my humble opinion, is to use a platform like ours here at SpotRight, which blends top consumer data with AI to quickly build highly targeted, custom, people based audiences. Based on the analyses you create in our platform, our AI engine finds over 4,000 of the most useful and distinguishing characteristics of that group including brand engagement, media and publishers, influencers, retail and grocery purchases, and demographics. We then onboard the audience into the social and digital media-buying platforms you use every day.

With the push of a button, the insights you use to fuel your marketing strategies are programmatically tied to the audiences you target. And here’s the best part: testing with a large set of individual-level purchase data, we found that our algorithms predict which potential audience members are 10x more likely to be a buyer!

Once you know which audience to target, it’s time to select your offers and create your campaign.

It’s best practice to choose between three and four offers for each campaign. This allows you to run robust media buying campaigns while testing different offers against each other.

Choosing Your Advertising Platform

Make no mistake: not all DSPs are created equally, and there are several approaches to this selection process.

First, do you want to sign up for an ad network, DSP, or go the “direct buy” route? When you buy traffic directly from a publisher, you’ll be buying impressions in bulk. This means going to each target website and reaching out directly.

This can be challenging, as the website owner will want to generate as much profit as possible, which means some negotiating will be required. You’ll also have to spend time going from website to website and managing each relationship on an individual basis.

DSPs, on the other hand, act as the middleman between your media buying campaign and the websites they’ll be served on. You’ll essentially be auctioning your ads with other advertisers, meaning you’ll be in competition with them.

However, DSPs allow you to optimize the entire process thanks to the technology they offer. Using the right ad network or DSP, you can optimize targeting based on the offer and audience segments (as defined earlier).

Here’s a list of potential ad networks and platforms for you to consider:

  • Google Display Network
  • Facebook Audience Network
  • The Trade Desk
  • PulsePoint
  • Need some inspiration about which platform to explore? Here is a selection of top digital marketing platforms that SpotRight is integrated with to send custom, people-based audiences for targeting.

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Image source

When considering each ad platform, take the pricing structure into account. Check the pricing models and compare them to each other. While some premium networks are more expensive, they may also be more profitable.

You must also consider the features of each network and the user experience they offer. For example, one network may have all the self-serve features you need to run great campaigns. Another will go the extra mile to ensure you’re set up properly and targeting the right websites.

Whatever network you choose, ensure it aligns with your business goals.

2. Campaign Creation: Building Effective Ad Campaigns

So, you’ve done all your preparation and know exactly who you’re targeting, as well as the networks to reach them.

It’s time to place the order and set up your campaigns. Here, you’ll learn how to prepare engaging ad creative and set up your campaigns for maximum profitability.

Creating Killer Ad Creative

Display ads are typically served on websites on desktop computers. These ads look something like this:

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And appear on websites like this:

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So, what makes for an effective display ad? Here are some tips and best practices to follow:

  • Use the right sizes: Make sure you follow the right dimensions for each platform you serve ads on. For example, Google AdSense sizes range from 336 x 280 px to 728 x 90 px. It all depends on where the ad will be served!
  • Placement: Get placed on websites that serve ads above the fold.
  • Company logo: Display ads are the perfect opportunity to raise brand awareness. Make it prominent, but not so visually-dominant that it drowns out your value proposition.
  • Value proposition: Showcase the benefits of what you’re offering in a succinct and clear manner. Do this by using headlines and subheads to ensure you’re covering all bases.
  • Call-to-action: What do you want the audience to do? Use language like “Get Started” or “Access For Free” to entice people to click through.
  • Make it readable: The headline and subheading should be different sizes. Use fonts that are clear and easy to read.
  • High-quality imagery: Use photography, illustrations and graphics that grab attention. Don’t be too abstract, and ensure your choice of imagery is relevant to your product or service.

Make sure your ads are consistent with your branding and compel the user to take action. Adding a sense or urgency is one way to do this.

Adobe is the perfect example of a brand that nails effective ad creative. In the ads illustrated below, they get to the crux of the offer quickly — using relevant imagery and compelling calls-to-action:

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Another great example comes from Dropbox. Here, they use simple design that aligns with their branding yet still captures the attention of their target audience:

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Choosing Your Bidding Strategy

There are several ways to categorize bidding, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It all depends on your short- and long-term goals.

First, let’s understand the nature of pricing in the context of media buying. The cost of ad inventory tends to fit into one of two categories:

  • Fixed Price: In order to win the bid, you must bid equal to or above the fixed asking price. Even if you bid higher, you’ll still only pay the fixed asking price. This allows publishers to control price while providing advertisers the opportunity to secure inventory.
  • Dynamic Price: Unlike fixed price, dynamic pricing is determined in real-time through auction. Programmatic technology allows this to happen, reacting to the fluctuating supply-and-demand changes in the ad market.

From here, media buyers can either bid manually or using programmatic technologies to automate the process. While programmatic is the dream, it can only automate a certain array of metrics. Therefore, some manual intervention is always required.

With this in mind, you can choose between one of two bidding strategies:

  • Sprint: Aim to get fast results while minimizing costs. You’ll choose a narrow target, selecting a safe volume and bidding high over a short-term basis.
  • Marathon: Choose this strategy when you have a clear idea about your target segments. You can use data generated from a sprint to direct your long-term bidding strategy.

The strategy you choose will depend on your goals. If you’re just getting started, you may want to run a few sprints in order to collect data on target segments, interests and the highest performing offers.

3. Optimization: Testing New Approaches

Once your media buying campaign has been up-and-running for some time, you’ll start generating insights to learn and act upon.

Let’s explore how to collect this right data and how to use it in order to optimize your campaigns for better results.

Collecting Data & Media Buying Insights

Before you can do anything, you’ll need to generate enough traffic. How long this takes will depend on your target segments, geo and customer personas.

Once you’ve let your campaign run long enough, it’s time to analyze the data. Depending on your chosen platform, you’ll have access to the native reporting they provide.

For example, the Facebook Ads platform provides impression, click and CTR data — all the way to conversion rates (when using the Facebook Pixel):

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Many ad platforms will only provide top-level reporting (impressions and clicks). Which is why it’s important to couple this data with your Google Analytics.

Ask yourself, how is this traffic performing? Look at behavior metrics such as:

  • Avg. time on page
  • Bounce rate
  • User journey

User journeys are particularly useful for uncovering the content your chosen audience is interested in:

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If you’re driving traffic to editorial content, you can use content analytics and heatmaps (like those offered by CrazyEgg and Sumo) to see how your audience is consuming your content:

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With this data in hand, it’s time to generate insights to fuel your optimization experiments and fuel growth.

What’s the best way to generate these insights? Ask the right questions. These include:

  • Which ad creative performed best?
  • Which customer segments responded well?
  • Which traffic sources/platforms converted best?
  • Which ad platforms generated the majority of our traffic?

For example, you may find that Facebook Ads convert more leads at a higher cost, while display ads through an ad network generates more traffic at a lower conversion rate. From here, you’d need to adjust based on your overall goals.

Running Ad Experiments

Now you have the right insights, it’s time to run some experiments.

The first, and most obvious choice, is to double-down on the platforms and audiences that work best. When searching for the ideal target audience, get as granular as possible:

  • Which geos, regions and cities are they from?
  • Which devices and browsers do they use?
  • What are their common interests?

With this insight in hand, you can then optimize your targeting with hyper-granular precision. When using platforms like Facebook Ads, this can be a powerful way to boost performance while increasing ROI:

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Then there’s A/B testing your creative. Your display ads, visual content, copy and landing pages are all fair game for experimentation.

For example, you could test new ad imagery while keeping copy the same in order to see how it impacts engagement and click-throughs:

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What about where that traffic lands? Optimizing your landing pages can help increase the conversion rates from the traffic you’re already getting.

For example, Yuppiechef decided to test what impact removing navigation had on conversion rates:

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The result? A 100% increase in conversions. This is the power of small, incremental and well-thought experiments can have on bottom-line.

4. Scaling: Supercharge Your ROI

The final piece of the puzzle. As you execute your campaigns and generate more data, the better you can scale your media buying strategy.

But there’s a right and wrong way to do this. Here, we’ll cover some top tips for scaling your campaigns for sustained, long-term success.

Incremental Bidding Increase

After several rounds of optimization, it’s likely you’ve pushed a campaign to the point where you can’t squeeze any more improvements out of it.

But there’s one last experiment you can run:

Raise your bid by 10% and measure how this changes performance.

Oftentimes, this small increase can actually make your media buying campaigns more profitable.

Expand Your Geo Targeting

The 80/20 rule will be rampant across every area of your media buying campaigns, and this includes geo targeting.

Look at which geos are generating the most profitable traffic. Are there geos that don’t perform as well?

Take these resources and test different regions, cities and states. Double-down on the areas that work and cut out those that don’t.

Of course, you could always test different messaging first. Different areas speak differently. So if a specific geo doesn’t perform as well as it could, it may be because your messaging doesn’t resonate.

Test New Traffic Sources

Eventually, the network or source you’re tapping into will hit a ceiling. Take your campaign creative and test it on new advertising sources and platforms.

For example, if you’re exclusively using display ads through ad networks, test that messaging on the Google Ads platform and see how well it performs in the context of PPC.

When you’re looking to expand, using proven messaging and creative on new traffic sources is one of the fastest ways to do it.


The biggest benefit of a digital media buying strategy is the scalability and instant feedback it provides.

As we covered earlier, it’s important to get your targeting spot on from the beginning. Even with the most compelling ad creative, your campaigns will fall flat if fallen on the wrong ears.

Take the data and use that feedback to generate insights to optimize and scale. Experiment with various elements of your campaigns. Test new platforms, geos and traffic sources to get more bang for your buck.

Tell us, how are you currently structuring your media buying campaigns? Which approaches have you seen work better than others? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!