Killing Off the Almighty CTR

I think enough has been written about the frustration that planners experience when their campaigns are evaluated on click-through rates. However, I haven’t seen much written on how you might handle a client who puts too much faith in CTR.

Most planners find it frustrating when click rates on a campaign are low. What makes this situation even more frustrating is clients complaining about it when high CTRs are not a primary media objective.

We all know that post-click reporting is now pretty widespread. And many of us have seen surprises in our campaign data that show high CTR ad placements converting fewer customers than low CTR ad placements.

At that point, many clients and media planners begin to think that perhaps CTR isn’t the best measurement of campaign success. We now have other back-end metrics, besides leads and sales, that can be used to measure the success of campaigns. It simply depends on what’s most important to your client.

Newsletter registrations, page views per 1,000 impressions, sales volume, and length of session per click are all examples of custom metrics, trackable by many closed-loop reporting systems that an agency might suggest as success metrics.

Some rich media ads can report interaction time spent with the ad, which may have a bearing on client campaigns with brand awareness or brand recall goals. Surveys and pre- and post-studies can also do a great job of assessing a campaign’s impact on brand awareness and brand recall.

With all the custom success metrics that planners can develop, don’t you think it’s silly that some clients still insist on looking to CTR as an indicator of campaign performance?

To avoid being sacrificed on the CTR altar, your best bet is to set expectations before a campaign launches. For many agencies, the ideal time to do this is during the presentation of the media strategy to a client. After all, it makes sense to suggest to your client ways to gauge campaign success within the same presentation in which you explain the objectives and strategies that will drive the campaign.

If the expectation going into a campaign is that the ultimate measure of success is, for example, the degree to which your campaign affects brand recall, it becomes much easier to argue that since the ads were designed for that purpose, CTR becomes almost irrelevant.

While some campaigns can effectively do “double duty” (both selling product and increasing brand awareness), the ads are designed that way from the start. If your campaign was designed solely to enhance brand awareness, however, it would be simply wrong to judge its success based on a direct response metric like CTR.

So how did the almighty click-through rate become so mighty? It might have something to do with the fact that there wasn’t much around in the early days in the way of success criteria. And I think inclusion of CTR on almost every agency’s reporting spreadsheets is a holdover from those old days.

Have we reached the point at which we should kill off the occasionally misleading CTR column from our spreadsheets? I’d say that in some cases that might do some good. And it would certainly help some agencies to avoid being judged on irrelevant metrics.

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