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Measuring time-to-engagement in interactive ads
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Daniel Herman is the Product Manager of ironSource's Playworks Studio. This article originally appeared on his LinkedIn page.

The recent emergence of interactive ads is causing an industry transition from passive to active ad experiences, opening up a realm of optimization possibilities for advertisers which didn’t exist before. The rich data points interactive ads provide, give advertisers the ability to understand and track milestones throughout the ad experience - such as how many users choose to initially engage, how many choose to engage with subsequent interactive touchpoints, how many convert and when - data that is far more useful than just an impression or a click. To fully leverage this data, our team at ironSource has begun using new metrics to better measure a user’s progression throughout interactive ads. Enter TTE (Time to Engagement).

What is Time to Engagement?

We noticed that some of the interactive ads we were building for advertisers were resulting in low completion rates and low conversion rates. At first, our team thought that users were dropping out after the first or second touchpoint because the interactive ads themselves were too long. But even when we reduced the length of the ad, we didn’t see any significant improvements.

Since shortening the entire ad didn’t work, we looked to optimize individual touchpoints. That’s when we came up with TTE, or Time to Engagement.

TTE measures the time it takes for users to perform an action within an ad - from the moment a choice screen appears until the user reacts to it. Our goal was to understand how we could control the length of the ad experience by diagnosing which touchpoints were resulting in the most wasted time.

What did we learn?

We conducted a series of tests, analyzing over 1B ad impressions from tier-one countries, across multiple in-ad touchpoints and different verticals. Here is what we learned:

Clarity is key

First, we looked at the change in time between the moment the choice screen appeared and the user’s first action. The weighted average was 5.6 seconds, with 85% of engaged users engaging with an interactive ad within the first 10 seconds. Clearly, we were wasting precious time at the first touch point, likely because users were either failing to understand that the ad itself was interactive, or were unaware of what action was required of them.

Too many choices, too little time

Next, we tried to determine what happened at the second and third touchpoints, which would inform us where else in the in-ad funnel users were dropping off. We found that with each additional choice (i.e. the number of choices presented to a user at a given point within an interactive ad), the TTE, or the time it took for users to engage with the ad, increased. The more options users were presented with, the longer it took them to engage - that’s if they engaged with it at all.

Short TTE = higher conversion

Lastly, our analysis pointed towards a strong correlation between overall conversion and TTE, as we discovered that users who ultimately convert, engage with creatives earlier than those who don’t convert - as they fully completed the ad and got all of the information about the product.

Or, put differently: users with a short TTE are more likely to convert. In one ad we looked at, the group who converted had, on average, a 60% shorter TTE than those who didn’t convert. The lower the TTE, the higher the completion rate, and accordingly, the lower the dropout rate as time frame of the ad is being used more efficiently.

How to lower your TTE

Once we understood how long it took for users to engage with touchpoints in interactive ads, we were able to implement a number of changes. In one case, we added a dark overlay in order to make the UI clearer and more focused. We also added a clear and straightforward call to action (“tap to choose”) with pulsating arrows to show users the ad itself was interactive. Users then clearly understood what actions were required of them.

In the end, TTE not only helped us understand how long it takes a user to engage with an interactive creative, but also how different triggers affect a user’s reaction time, allowing us to provide users with a richer experience while simultaneously decreasing the time where users weren’t interacting with the ad at all - improving overall conversion.

Conclusion

The rise of in-ad data has brought about new ways to optimize ads that were never possible before. With access to rich data points provided by interactive ad units, and with the creation of metrics like TTE, advertisers can fully exploit the limited time before the exit button appears on an ad. As user behavior becomes increasingly transparent, and by diagnosing which touchpoints users get stuck on or engage with the most, advertisers can improve an ad’s overall performance KPIs.

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