The Beginning of the End of CTR?

CBS MarketWatch.com recently announced that it would no longer provide click-through rate (CTR) reports to advertising clients unless they were specifically requested. I’d like to immediately go on record as saying that I think this is a terrific idea and I support it fully.

For some time now, online publishers have known that CTR is not an adequate measurement of success for an online campaign. Most wish that CTR had never been invented, because it’s often used to judge success and compare sites across a campaign. Yet most publishers happily churn out CTR-based performance reports day after day, providing that information to advertising clients who often use it to jump to irrational and unfair conclusions about how their online campaigns are performing.

On Monday, the online trades trumpeted the news concerning MarketWatch.com’s move. AdAge.com, Adweek.com, and InternetNews Advertising Report all covered the announcement. In some cases, the headlines and lead paragraphs from these stories were a bit misleading. MarketWatch.com isn’t forcing any advertiser that wants to use CTR as a success metric to conform to some other measurement. Rather, the site wants to avoid painting all advertisers with the same brush.

After all, CTR is useful to only certain types of advertisers. If MarketWatch.com gives every advertiser the same kind of performance report, each advertiser will learn to use CTR in exactly the ways we don’t want them to use it. Instead, the site will offer brand-based performance metrics to its clients and give them CTR numbers only when requested.

After months upon months of clamoring for new success metrics, I’m glad to see that a publisher has taken a stance on the issue. It’s not enough for industry trade organizations to get together and collectively dis the click rate. Actions speak louder than words.

In this case, the action taken has struck a blow for success measurement. Online advertisers advertise for different reasons and to achieve different goals, so logically each advertiser should develop his or her own way of determining whether an online ad campaign is successful. So why should publishers send CTR-based performance reports to every advertiser? Wouldn’t it make more sense to instead provide information to help evaluate the success of a campaign against the advertiser’s goals?

In my opinion, it would. And I think MarketWatch.com was smart to take this action. If nothing else, it will make it easier for its sales reps to discuss success measurement with the advertisers they sell to. A deeper understanding of what constitutes success for each advertiser will go a long way toward strengthening the site’s relationships with those advertisers. The smart sales reps will use the new policy as an inroad to an upfront discussion about how a MarketWatch.com campaign will be evaluated. That discussion will prove to be effective at setting expectations and educating advertisers on alternative ways to track online success.

I hope to see a lot of influential online publishers follow MarketWatch.com’s lead over the next few weeks. Only the resultant publicity and scrutiny of the measurement issue will be able to force an adjustment in the way advertisers and agencies think about CTR.

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