Editor's note: Abigail Dufay and Ratna Tandavan are research directors at Albuquerque, N.M., research firm Ameritest.

Global digital ad spend is projected to top $130 billion in 2012, according to eMarketer. Do advertisers really know if they’re getting their money’s worth? The world of digital advertising today has expanded upon the online advertising of yesterday. What used to consist solely of pop-ups and small, static banner ads now has endless possibilities, ranging from rich media, Flash video, branded, interactive experiences to ads targeting consumers’ specific interests and locations. When evaluating the quality of digital advertising, it is a mistake to look at the digital world as a single advertising medium, because digital advertising is really an accumulation of media. The digital space allows for both the emulation of traditional media as well as the creation of new modes of communication. There is no single way to create a digital ad, therefore there shouldn’t be just one way to evaluate it.

This complexity has led to a muddled understanding of online ad effectiveness as a whole. As we enter 2012 and the digital space reaches nearly everyone, there is still a struggle to understand how to reliably evaluate digital advertising. Advertisers often rely on one-size-fits-all measures, such as click-through rates (CTRs) or action-based metrics through pixel tracking, to give them a basic understanding of how well an ad performs. For many digital ads, however, relying upon these behavioral performance measures would be as incomplete as relying upon exposures to measure a TV commercial’s total impact. With the digital age, perhaps we’ve become so focused on the mouse that we’re forgetting the importance of the mind. In other words, a click doesn’t necessarily reflect an ad’s success. For an ad to succeed, it must interact with the human mind.

Because the digital advertising space is a set of...