Posted December 10, 2010 4:44 pm by with 4 comments

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That’s the sound of another consumer moving from the webpage they’re on to your page via a display ad they found in the sidebar. Hooray!

Unfortunately, these days, the sound of the click, click, click is less of a tap dance and more like the lazy snap of a pleased beatnik. ComScore says that the average click rate on a display ad is 0.1%. Compare that to the average click rate on a paid search ad campaign (3.5%) and it’s easy to see why the digital intelligence company is calling for an end to counting clicks.

Why the fascination with the click? I suspect one reason is that computing clicks on display ads is fast, cheap and easy. In a world where time and money are of the essence, these factors may well be sufficient for some to put aside concerns about the click’s relevance. If correct, that’s certainly not a positive commentary on the state of the online ad business.

Statistics show that search ads are better performers than display ads which makes sense since “search’ implies that the person is looking for an answer. When they find it, they’re going to click it. Stats also show that display ads are good for brand awareness. Even if I don’t click on that McDonalds ad, a Quarter-Pounder is likely to end up on my plate at lunch. Humans are highly suggestible creatures, especially when it comes to calorie laden treats!

So what happens if we stop counting clicks? My first thought is, how would you measure a campaign’s success? Then I think, maybe it doesn’t matter. Look at magazine ads and TV commercials. People don’t interact with either of those delivery methods and yet we have ways of determining the effectiveness of each.

These days, where all forms of media and communications are melding into one tablet-sized package, maybe it’s time to stop looking at clicks and start looking a the total picture. Because in the end, the only number that really matters is the one with the dollar sign in front of it.

  • I agree and disagree.

    I agree that the only number that matters involves money. Marketing should always be about return on investment. Always. There are many avenues to new sales, and these include search ads and customer engagement, but in the end the marketer is trying to build sales.

    I disagree that we should be tempted to give up measuring things other than sales. Take a search ad for instance. The marketer should measure impressions and clicks to see how many impressions are required to generate clicks. They should then measure how many clicks translates into an engagement with the site – i.e. sharing on social networks, calling, or e-mailing for info. From there, the marketer can measure how many engaged leads become sales so that they can determine the average cost of a sale through that media.

    This is why I’ve always maintained that every media is not appropriate for every business. Allocating some money to find out what works and what doesn’t is part of the challenge in marketing.

    I also disagree that people can’t measure interactions with magazine ads and the like. Customers are often asked where they heard about the firm they’re shopping at, which gives marketers some idea about impact. Furthermore, new technologies like Microsoft Tag are being used to persuade people to engage with all kinds of material – magazine ads, brochures, business cards, and even real estate signs.

    Tracking clicks, like tracking friends on Facebook, is a pointless exercise if you aren’t tracking how many of those lead to sales. The internet has been very effective in getting people to measure marketing success, but also in getting people to measure things that don’t tell us much about profits on their own.

    • Cynthia

      Good point on the new ability to tag ads. I think this could help revitalize print advertising because it gives it that extra umph that we’re used to getting from the net.

      Also, I didn’t mean to imply we should give up measuring everything but sales. Brand awareness is also important. Counting the number of people who responded positively to an ad is useful information even if that response doesn’t lead directly to a sale.

      I think the trouble is that the net is growing and constantly changing and I’m not sure our metrics are keeping up. It’s like the Nielsen ratings. We’ve been using them forever as a way of counting how many people watch a TV show and from that, ad dollars are allocated. But that system didn’t account for time shifted viewing, internet viewing, or on demand.

      We get comfortable with a system and change is hard, but we have to keep looking at the metrics to see if they’re really delivering the information we need or just what we think we need.

  • You are correct that clicks should not be counted and instead only $dollars matters.

  • I like your quality over quantity tone. CTR may be great but CPA is horrendously high. Or CTR and conv rate are both awesome, but they aren’t buying via that lead-gen ad.

    Re this: “Statistics show that search ads are better performers than display ads which makes sense since “search’ implies that the person is looking for an answer. When they find it, they’re going to click it. Stats also show that display ads are good for brand awareness.”

    I don’t fully buy into the idea that search is for sales (ebay, amazon) and display is for branding (coke, forbes). There’s a missing piece in that theory, especially in lead-generation. Write good ads for the content network, use the appropriate mix of kws, and you will be richly rewarded with leads/sales/conversions.

    ~80% of all my Adwords biz remains on the content side. Yeah, I realize that those of us profiting from it should be quiet, but whatever. Most people aren’t listening anyway. It’s a big, young market.