Plans are carefully laid. The creative is impactful. The content is compelling. The media surrounds your audience. Search, social and email are integrated in support of the overarching program. But the results are not there.

Your plan is the result of your passion. When someone says it isn’t performing, it is nearly a personal affront, but it shouldn’t be. Doing something that doesn’t work is learning. Continuing to do something that doesn’t work is lunacy.

Let’s skip past setting goals and establishing your metrics. If you are still struggling with this, there are numerous good articles available. When should you optimize your campaign? When are you certain that making a change is better than waiting it out?

Here are three guidelines I have used over the years to cut through emotions and focus on optimization opportunities in digital campaigns.

1. Focus On Your Success Metrics, Not Other Noise

For a brand campaign, some have the impulse to optimize based on click rate. But if a click isn’t critical to accomplishing your goal, it shouldn’t be your criteria for optimization either. Focus on your critical success metrics.

2. Wait Long Enough for Meaningful Results

We have a natural inclination to look at total numbers. A small publisher or a creative that is only offered to a small segment should have lower numbers. Always compare your expected results to date versus your actual results to date for any part of your program. Common rules of thumb are to wait until you expect 10 to 20 results (registrations, content downloads, video plays, etc). Using a statistical test like chi-squared can also be helpful.

For example, if you expect a $20,000 search program to deliver 400 registrations and $5,000 has been spent to date, compare your actual registrations to 100. With only 100 expected registrations to date, it is likely you will only be able to assess the individual performance of some of your highest volume keywords and ad groups.

3. Look to Understand Why

Why is the biggest unanswered question in marketing. Is the problem the creative or the media placement? Is the underperformance a clue the overall approach is flawed, or is it specific to a single part of your plan, and if so, what characteristics can you look for in the future to prevent similar problems? Go ahead with your optimization, but don’t forget to come back and revisit the situation to understand why the program underperformed.

Marketing does not have a single right solution, understanding why something is working or not working gives you clues you need to uncover new winners and avoid potential failures in the future.

Your Turn

What guidelines do you use to determine when to optimize campaigns? Share your practices in the comments below or with me on Twitter.