Posted April 25, 2012 2:56 pm by with 0 comments

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All hail the mighty click-through. It’s the holy grail of display marketing. The action for which we are willing to pay a handsome sum every time it happens. Why? Because a click is just a step away from a conversion. Yes?

A click on a book ad leads to my buying the book. A click on a restaurant coupon ad means I’m headed out to lunch. Or not?

A new study by Pretarget and comScore says that click-throughs have one of the lowest conversion rates of all the trackable metrics for display ads. What’s more effective? The ad hover.

I’d like to stop here a moment to clarify a point. I read the results of the Pretarget report three times and each time felt like I was listening to a lecture by Dr. Sheldon Cooper. So bear with me while I try to work this out.

First off, Keith Pieper of Pretarget says, “your ad being seen matters more than your ad being clicked. . . After all, what good is an ad that can’t be seen?”

I have to agree with him there. Statistically, the recall rate on invisible ads is pretty low. Then there are the ads that appear below the fold. You know how often people go “down there.” Hardly, ever, right? So that ads not doing you much good, either.

Still, Pretarget says we continue to pay for display ad impressions and clicks in what they call the “spray and pray” method. I call it throwing spaghetti at the wall – throw enough, eventually some of it will stick.

Here comes the Sheldon Cooper part:

The results showed that ad hover/interaction (correlation = 0.49) and viewable impressions (correlation = 0.35) had highest correlation with conversion, while gross impressions (correlation = 0.17) was significantly lower. Perhaps most interestingly, clicks (correlation = 0.01) had the lowest correlation with conversion, far under-performing all other metrics analyzed in the study.

Let me get this straight. If I hover over an ad with my mouse, I have a higher chance of converting than if I clicked on that ad? But how do you measure the conversion of an ad hover? Something to do with cookies I imagine, but it doesn’t sound like a very solid system of measurement. Or am I missing something? It’s possible. Please let me know if I am.

I do understand and agree with the broader point, which is that the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the best way. Technology has changed quite a bit since the first banner ad hit the web, but how we measure the success of a display campaign hasn’t changed much at all.

The problem lies in finding a new form of measurement that everyone can agree on. But seeing where we stand with measuring the impact of social media, I’m afraid I don’t hold out much hope for the elimination of click-counting any time soon.