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Conducting a
Digital Media Audit

Conducting a Digital Media Audit

Digital Media Audits

The way consumers discover and engage with your brand has changed. Consumers expect brands to deliver relevant communications at the right time and in the right context and a seamless experience across channels. That is driving heavy investment in digital.

According to Zenith forecasts:

  • US digital investment will exceed $200 billion in 2022

  • Digital investment will account for 67% of total ad dollars

  • Search, social and online video will account for the largest share of spend


What does the shift to digital mean for advertisers? 

Digital media moves at pace, with new platforms, audiences, features and best practices constantly emerging. This provides continuous opportunities for your business to innovate, test and learn. But it also exposes advertisers to new risks.

Media directors need to stay on top of changes in the digital ecosystem to ensure that digital investment is as effective as possible. You need to continuously review what works and what doesn’t. And procurement needs to ensure you’re getting the maximum value from your digital investments.

This means upskilling and training teams on digital media buying, reviewing and setting appropriate KPIs to measure digital media efficiency and effectiveness. It also requires constant evaluation of digital marketing activities to identify opportunities, mitigate investment risks and achieve the best possible price in digital auctions. 

A digital media audit supports media directors and procurement in doing this.

In this guide, we’ll explain all you need to know about digital media auditing. Whether you’re new to digital auditing or want to make sure you’ve got everything covered, this post will help you chart the best way forward.

What is a Digital Media Audit?

A digital media audit is an assessment of how well you are deploying digital strategies and tactics to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. 

It can include an assessment of how well your digital media platforms (such as demand-side-platforms, Facebook Ads or Google Ads) are set up, what audiences and inventory you're buying, how buys are performing, how well you’re mitigating risks – especially brand safety and ad fraud – optimization tactics and much more. 

This valuable information will help you understand how your digital set-up and approach is contributing towards your marketing goals and how you can improve efficiency and effectiveness. 

It will provide you with:

  • An inventory of your digital campaigns and how they contribute to your goals;

  • Strengths and weaknesses of your current set up and approach;

  • Risk exposure and investment waste in your current tactics;

  • A strategy for how to optimize and get more value from your digital channels;

  • Benchmarks for future reporting; and

  • Key priorities to know where to focus your attention now and in the future.

Conducting a digital audit is the first step in any progressive digital strategy. You’ll know what’s working and what’s not. It is a must for media directors and procurement.

How Can a Digital Media Audit Benefit Your Brand?

A digital media audit gives advertisers:

  • Greater transparency and control

  • Performance improvement opportunities

  • Better risk management and waste limitation

  • Reduced complexity and a deeper understanding 

  • Clearer accountability

  • Improved partnerships

An audit doesn’t just help you improve media outcomes, it protects your digital investments.


An audit doesn’t just help you improve media outcomes, it protects your digital investments. Are you aware of he risks? Find out more, download ID Comms Safeguarding Your Programmatic Investment

Evolution of Digital Media Auditing

Media auditing has been a standard media management practice for many years. Historically, it has been used by procurement teams to assess agency capabilities based on their buying power and ability to secure the best possible price for traditional mass media buying. 

There has been little change to auditing practices over the last 40 years, despite significant evolutions in consumer behavior and media consumption. Traditional methodologies such as like-for-like media price comparison year-over-year or versus industry benchmarks continue to be used. These techniques worked well when investment was predominantly in linear TV, with limited buying choices and agencies competing head-to-head for inventory. 

However, they do not work for modern, fragmented and, typically auction-based, digital media buys.


Digital has changed the dynamics of media buying in three ways: 


Numerous choices

Unlike traditional TV, digital media planning choices are infinite. There are numerous different formats, environments and audiences and there are multiple ways to buy the same media (e.g. in programmatic the same placement can be bought direct, via open marketplace, programmatic guaranteed, private or curated marketplaces). 


Price is driven by data and context, not buying power

In digital media buying, price is not set up front, but during the auction for each impression. Efficiency is optimized by analyzing data and context, not negotiating on price. Both traders and algorithms leverage technology to buy media in an automated way based on data signals for each individual impression.

Countless variables influence impression price (audience, geo, device, format, browser, location, KPI etc.) The same inventory will be bought at a different price minute by minute. Comparison year-on-year is meaningless. 

Instead, the vast data available provides an opportunity for advertisers to evaluate whether agencies are effectively using data in their buying and optimization choices to eliminate waste and maximize value.


Digital evolves at pace

Digital media delivery rarely stays the same. New channels, platforms and features emerge daily, with the major platforms, such as Google Display and Video 360, The Trade Desk, Google Ads, or Facebook Ads, releasing thousands of product updates every year. Opportunities are timely and need to be actioned quickly to maximize impact. Annual media audits are no longer fit for purpose.

Advertisers that have continued with the traditional methods of media auditing have seen their percentage of media held accountable diminish, as more and more investment has shifted to digital. Savvy advertisers have instead recognized that the modern digital media audit needs to focus on what impacts price in an auction; analysis of data, platform set-up and agency optimization productivity. 


Digital media auditing needs to go beyond retrospective analysis and be more proactive. It should mitigate risks and errors today and inform digital strategy for tomorrow, with ongoing insights to capitalize on tactical and optimization opportunities that deliver against your marketing goals.


Wherever you are on your journey with digital auditing, advertisers need to govern digital investment for quality control, tactical evolution and optimization. 


Do you have the right governance programs in place that can handle the dynamics of biddable media bought through an auction-based system? Are you confident that you’re maximizing outcomes from your programmatic investments?

How do you Run a Successful Digital Media Audit?

It can be hard to know where to start, right? Digital auctions are complex beasts but getting an audit that speaks your language and delivers quick wins is more straightforward than you think.


Here are six simple tips to get you started: 


Be clear on your objectives – You need a north star to keep you focused. What are you trying to achieve? Is it greater agency accountability? Better fee transparency? A better understanding of risk exposure? Whatever your goal, be clear about it to ensure a tailor-made audit that delivers.


Align stakeholders, especially media and procurement – A digital media audit can be an effective tool to align procurement and media on media priorities. It delivers better accountability, greater value and improved partnerships. But ahead of an audit, it is important to ensure buy in from all stakeholders. 


Identify channel and platform priorities – A digital media audit is conducted on a channel specific basis to identify the nuances and best practices of what delivers results for each channel, platform and algorithm. Identify where you spend the most, or the channel or platform that drives the lion's share of your business outcomes.


Enlist support of an independent consultant / auditor – An audit should be independent of the team managing your media, whether that be an in-house or outsourced team. While agency-owned digital audits can be useful, these often prioritize protecting the agency over transparency. Enlisting support from an independent digital media auditing consultancy such as ID Comms can provide the expertize needed to reduce complexity and ensure a seamless process.


Involve the agency – A digital media audit should not be about policing, but helping the agency to deliver better digital media value for your business. Ensure a collaborative approach that gets agency input and aligns with them on a clear action plan.


Don’t be a perfectionist – An audit is about learning what you can do better. There are many challenges in digital media buying, some of which require industry-wide change to resolve. But if you make digital auditing an iterative process, you can drive ongoing continuous improvement, better your position, reduce your risk and maximize growth for your business.

What Should a Digital Audit Include?

A digital audit should include a robust and comprehensive data analysis of your digital marketing platforms.

There are key areas that a digital marketing audit should evaluate:

  • Spend and performance

  • Audience and buys

  • Optimization and productivity



Spend and performance

A digital audit should review all of your digital media spend within a channel to gain full transparency of costs and fees and better understand performance.

Investment and Fees – Who did you pay for what?

It is important that advertisers verify what was bought and how spend was distributed at a granular level. 

KPIs – How did it perform?

Digital media requires a constant review of what worked and what didn’t. A digital audit should review digital media performance by evaluating KPIs over time and identifying trends. 

Billing & Reporting – Are accounts consistent?

An audit should include a comparison of spend and delivery counts in advertiser reports, platform interfaces, ad server reports, reconciliation reports, media owner and agency invoices and ensure invoices are based on the correct costs or counts. 

Access and Ownership – Do you have visibility?

Your digital platforms hold sensitive information about your business. It’s important that you can access all that data and that you have legal ownership of your brand’s accounts and pages. 



Audiences and buys

A granular analysis of your audiences and what you are buying enables you to identify what within your strategy is working and what is not and identify any risks. 

Objectives – Are platform strategies aligned to your goals?

Digital buying algorithms rely on data and guidance from media buyers. An audit should assess whether in-platform strategies, objectives and KPIs align to your goals and the right inputs are given to algorithms.

Audiences, Data and Targeting – Is your targeting relevant?

Digital audiences do not always translate directly to planned audiences, so assessing their relevance is crucial. An audit should include a breakdown of the audiences you are buying, the data source, and an assessment of the return on any data costs. 

Formats, Inventory & Supply – What placements did you buy and how?

Understand what ad formats are being bought, where ads are showing up and whether the route to placement is as efficient and optimized as possible (e.g. optimizing supply paths in programmatic media or keyword matching in search). 

Quality & Standards – Are quality and risk actively managed?

A digital audit should assess whether you are investing with known safe partners and levels of ad fraud exposure. It should determine viewability and whether ads are likely to have been seen and noticed.



Optimization and productivity

An evaluation of the quality of optimization and the productivity of your digital media managers will identify further opportunities to drive efficiencies and improve media effectiveness. 

Budgets, Bidding & Algorithms – Are budgets and bid strategies effective?

Algorithms need direction, and bids need to be optimized manually as well to ensure you remain competitive. Optimization productivity and budget prioritization for your best performing products, campaigns or placements should be reviewed.

Campaign structure – Do platform campaign structures maximize insight?

Assess campaign structure and naming conventions for improvement opportunities to generate incremental insight, drive efficiencies in operations, enable more informed optimizations, and improve the accuracy of reporting and measurement. 

Creative Optimization – Is continuous creative testing deployed?

Creative and landing page testing is crucial to ensure relevance to the consumer. A digital audit should review your test and learn approach and productivity and identify poor performing elements that should be removed or refined.

Measurement & Tracking – Is everything tracked and measured holistically?

Mistakes in tracking implementation can be costly, and impact decision making. An audit should ensure everything is correctly tracked and media value is being measured by a single source of truth across channels.



This may sound like a lot, but that’s because there is so much data available through digital platforms that there’s much that can be done to improve media value. 

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You don’t have to audit everything all at once. Every advertiser has different digital media capabilities and is at a different stage of development. The beauty of digital media is that there is always incremental value to be found.

Wherever you are on your journey, you just have to commit to start. ID Comms can help you identify the right starting point for your business. 


Programmatic buying involves countless micro-decisions, made by the advertiser, trader and buying platform. Are you in control of these? Can you afford not to be?

Programmatic provides the tools and technology to achieve any marketing goal. The capabilities are endless. But too many advertisers leave strategic and tactical buying choices to chance. This can give rise to significant waste. Advertisers must take control with more active programmatic media management. 


What should I do with digital media audit results?

So now what? Your digital media audits are complete. You know what your challenges are and you have a plan of action to optimize value. What next?

First, action the quick wins, and make sure these are tracked and governed to ensure the benefits are realized. And then repeat the audit to identify new incremental improvement opportunities.

A digital media audit is also the start of broader change and smarter media management. The insights garnered from your audit can help you to prioritize and create the business case for bigger strategic initiatives and change agendas.

At ID Comms, we see that strategic initiatives that emerge from digital audits focus on two main areas: de-risking investment and improving growth.



De-risking your digital media investment

No doubt your audit has highlighted some high-risk strategies, approaches that don’t quite align to your business values, areas of wasted investment and opportunities for greater transparency. These need to be addressed with tighter policies and controls. At ID Comms we often see the following legal and operational change priorities emerge from digital audits.

Contract Re-Negotiation – better audit, access and transparency rights for digital media channels and platforms and tighter governance controls.

Digital Media Buying Standards and Commitments – frameworks that allow you to hold your agency to account for compliance and enable waste to be recouped in certain instances - any spend outside of target geo, for example.

KPI Setting and PRIP model design – Audits often highlight misaligned KPIs. Re-visiting KPI frameworks and how agencies are rewarded in PRIP models can make a significant difference to agency productivity and media outcomes. 

Data and Reporting Review – A reporting stress testing program can mitigate any errors, inconsistencies with data taxonomies or gaps in data visibility and deliver a step change in a media director's ability to make informed digital media decisions.

Digital media management training – an audit highlights gaps in digital media buying knowledge, both in strategic media management and operational expertize. Training can improve your team’s control over your digital investment.

Media management playbooks – Aligning with your agency on agreed principles for media management and putting in place best-practice playbooks is a great tool for a media director to build confidence in media buying practices. 



Improving value generating behavior and growth 

Long-term value generation and waste reduction is not driven by quick win actions and strategic initiatives alone, but by behavior change. Audits highlight numerous behavioral changes that have the potential to drive long-term growth. An improvement program to scale these changes can provide huge benefits.

Long-term growth comes from increasing analytical behaviors, best practice implementations and optimization productivity. But you can’t measure savings or value generation from each individual platform implementation or optimization as these are too numerous. 

So how can procurement and media reward the behaviors you want to see from your agency?

A simple ongoing test and learn program can prove the value of a type of analysis, best practice implementation or optimization. Once you know the benefit, you can reward the behavior – a setting application across campaigns for example – rather than the outcome at scale. These behavioral principles can be formalized in a PRIP model.


Programmatic media planning and buying is a different beast to traditional media planning and buying. Fueled by data, and enabled through technology, the possibilities are unlimited. True and lasting competitive advantage doesn’t come from price, but from high productivity and marginal gains. 


A digital media audit is a critical component of a media director and procurement team’s arsenal. It helps advertisers to gain better transparency and control over digital investments, generate greater value and reduce waste. Moreover, it can be a tool to foster better partnerships and inform longer term strategic media priorities.

Today’s digital media audit must focus on what impacts price in an auction; analysis of data, platform set-up and agency productivity.

Enlisting support from an independent auditor can add significant value, reducing complexity and ensuring a smooth process. Look for partners that are collaborative with your agency and demonstrate benefit beyond the initial audit, identifying the ‘so what?’ to deliver actionable and long-term benefits.

We believe that advertisers need to untangle complexities and build their knowledge of auction-based buying to regain control over buying decisions, revamp contracts to de-risk investment, and implement operational standards to drive improved efficiency and effectiveness. Those that do will gain a competitive advantage. 


DIGITAL CONTROLTM is ID Comms modern approach to media auditing that provides a robust, comprehensive analysis of advertiser programmatic, search and social media investments, delivering clear actionable recommendations to reduce waste and improve value.