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Is the Click Dead or Just Misunderstood?

  |  October 13, 2011   |  Comments

Or is it that we need to realize it has evolved, and evolve our thinking right along with it?

The click is dead.

How long have we been hearing this said? For how many years have publishers been lamenting the popularity of this metric, and shouting its inaccuracy and irrelevance to modern digital media from the rooftops? It seems that every few months another expert comes out claiming that, this time, it's true: as a form of online advertising measurement intended to accurately track interest and actions, the click has failed us.

The theory isn't without weight. Earlier this year, Collective Media came out with a paper called "The Click: Brand Marketing's Most Misleading Measure" that addressed the argument by way of offering some relevant facts. For example, 99 percent of stable Internet users (referred to for the purposes of the study as "user cookies") have never clicked on an ad. Those who have, meanwhile, are 210 percent more likely to do it again, suggesting that they're "serial clickers" who may not be terribly qualified.

The paper's additional data offers little consolation. According to Collective, these clickers probably aren't your target audience anyway; those most inclined to click are older users with a lower income and a "fair" credit score who are late adopters of new technology and carefully watch what they spend. Worse still, between accidental clicks and the rising incidents of click fraud, you may not be able to reach this audience even if you wanted to.

If you really want to determine whether the click is dead, however, you'll have to look at more than just user behavior online. You must consider how the digital media landscape has changed. The typical consumer is exposed to advertising in countless forms from TV and print to web, mobile, and social media. Exposure to an advertising message might not incite an immediate click, but marinate in the user's mind until that time at which she's ready to react.

Click 2.0

To make a blanket statement about the demise of the click isn't fair. As a singular measure of online media success, its value may be grossly diminished. It's had its day in the sun. Yet at the same time, it seems to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Marketers are now relying on it to help them gauge the value of new forms of digital media like social networks and search marketing. Email and interactive marketing solutions company ExactTarget's recent study "The Meaning of Like" found that 93 percent of Facebook users click the "Like" button at least monthly. The action can mean different things to different people - for young consumers, it's about public brand endorsement, while those over the age of 27 expect something in return - but for the brand, it demonstrates engagement, and there's no questioning the value of that.

A similar study from research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey reveals that 56 percent of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand to a friend after "Liking" it on Facebook, and 51 percent are more likely to purchase the product. These users aren't just consumers, but potential customers. Would brands have managed to determine this without the help of the click?

Let's not forget about Google and its AdWords program, the bulk of the search giant's revenue. There's no denying the importance of clicks there. Marketers are happy to pay for clicks that will lead to immediate results like site visits, leads, downloads, and opt-ins, but this doesn't mean clicks are only important to direct response marketers. Canadian digital media company Mediative (part of Yellow Pages Group) conducted a study on the relationship between both paid and organic search results and brand affinity, recall, and purchase intent. Using automaker Honda as a test subject and securing top paid and organic search placements for the brand, the company noted lifts across the board.

The click is dead. Or is it that we need to realize it has evolved, and evolve our thinking right along with it?

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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