So, click-through rates are going up. Who cares?
You know those times in life when you stumble across something that just rubs you the wrong way? I'm talking about something that's annoying enough to make you off turn the TV in disgust or toss the magazine you've been reading into the trash. Now, I'm not generally prone to fits of being rankled, and I think that yelling at my computer might just be an early sign of mental discomfiture... but I think I have a point.
OK, a few weeks ago DoubleClick announced that click-through rates in the online industry have increased 35 percent since last year. Although this may strike some advertisers as a reason to celebrate, my opinion on the relevance of the click-through rate caused me to say, "So what?"
Once again, the click-through rate is being heralded as some grand indicator of successful online advertising. In fact, Doug Knopper, VP of advertiser solutions at DoubleClick, said, "While click-through rate is only one method of assessing online advertising effectiveness, its stability over the past several months reflects the mainstream adoption of online advertising at levels consistent with traditional direct response rates."
I don't want to seem thick, but I'm still looking for the link between somebody clicking on an ad and the effectiveness of the ad. Just because an advertiser was able to encourage (read: sucker) a consumer into clicking on the ad, what significance does that have for the advertiser's bottom line? Does this increase in click-through also come with an increase in return on investment (ROI)?
And just who are these consumers who have started clicking on ads? Was there a sudden influx of alien life forms that haven't gotten fed up with the interrupt model of click-through ads? Or is the increase in click-through rates based more on sleazy ad design in which the "close" box for the ad actually results in a click-through?
Don't get me wrong, I'm as eager as any of you to hear good news about the online advertising industry, but I feel that deluding ourselves to feel better is... well, delusional.
Consider a real world analogy between the click-through and a store visit. If a store were able to measure an increase in the number of customers and directly correlate that to an increase in sales, then I'll be impressed. However, you're probably not going to overhear a conversation in your local department store that goes something like this:Bob: Wow, just look at these figures! We had a 35 percent increase last month in customers who walked into the store, looked around, and walked out again!
Not that I wish to make Doug Knopper a sworn enemy (although it might be too late for that), but I also question how an increased click-through rate can be equated with traditional direct response rates. Once again, where is the advantage to the advertiser? If a direct marketer could measure a 35 percent increase in people who opened the direct mail piece first before throwing it away, does that make any difference to the bottom line?
But it's not all bad (or, at least, useless) news. The report from DoubleClick also goes on to say that click-through rates for rich media ads (at 2.4 percent) are six times higher than those for non-rich media ads (I'm assuming they're GIF banner ads). Though this shows rich media ads have a greater appeal, I still question why a rich media ad would require a click-through to do its job. Rich media-based ads have the advantage of allowing the consumer to get the information she needs from within the ad space -- without requiring a click to the advertiser's Web site. Rich media ads are more like microsites or online marketing tools than animated buttons designed to whisk consumers away.
For an online ad to be successful or effective, it has to meet an established goal. If advertisers are comfortable with that goal being the number of people who clicked on the ad, then that is their choice. However, being able to equate that action with how effectively the ad provided brand awareness, established a relationship with the consumer, or directly contributed to the bottom line is nice, too.
I encourage advertisers to look past the click. It isn't an indicator of effective advertising if it can't be correlated with a substantial change in revenue. I also encourage advertisers to look more closely at what rich media ads can offer them and their consumers. Consider the value of being able to state, "Last month we ran an ad that collected 17,000 email addresses of highly targeted opt-in consumers that we can use for our upcoming campaign. And we did it without sending a single person to our Web site."
Also, rich media advertising can offer measurement and reporting capabilities that show click-through ads to be the one-trick ponies they are. How about being able to show solid branding potential by measuring the percentage of consumers who saw the ad and interacted with it? How about being able to measure the number of consumers who printed out a coupon? Why not work on getting a solid count of consumers who submitted their email address, played the game, then downloaded the heavily branded screensaver software?
If you're unfamiliar with what rich media advertising can offer, then I encourage you to spend some time getting the education that will save you time and money. Contact a fine rich media provider such as Point·Roll, Unicast, or Eyeblaster (to name a few) and look over what it can offer.
And if, by some miracle, anybody can show me the clear logic in using click-through rates to measure the effectiveness of online ads, I will apologize profusely, write retractions, and say nice things about how click-through can make the world a better place.
But you shouldn't hold your breath.
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Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.
A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.
When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.
He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.
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