The Blog

by Chris Copacino

Rising up against declining CTRs

Over the last couple of years, industry studies have reported a general decrease in average click-through rates (CTR) for online display. This trend was recently highlighted in a Google study looking at CTRs across 2010. The favorability of online display is starting to be questioned given steady declining CTRs and other stats flowing from user studies that find something like 16% of online users account for 80% of all clicks.

It shouldn’t be a shock to us as marketers (who are consumers ourselves after all) that CTRs are declining. As continually barraged as we are with advertising messages furiously competing for every last nanosecond of our attention, it makes sense that users who are interacting with content they have voluntarily sought-out might not be so ready to be redirected to your site just because you have been gracious enough to place an ad on the page they are viewing. It just doesn’t work that way and we need to rise above the dependence on the click as the only measurement by which we judge campaigns success.

The focus should move from driving the click to maximizing the impression. We make a lot of impressions in online display, but what is the true quality of those impressions? Not very high if we tell incomplete stories that rely on the click to resolve the narrative. Instead, we should focus on succinct, engaging storytelling in-banner that fully communicates within the unit.

At C+F (shameless plug) we call this “short-fuse messaging”. The focus should be on strong, yet pithy, complete messages. If your message gets truncated because the user decided not to bless you with the scarce click, then you have not communicated effectively. If the user does click—great and we love that—but it shouldn’t be mandatory to complete the communication, nor the be-all end-all in measurement of success.

The trick then is to engage in a relevant and meaningful way, maximize the impression and then create paths back to your destination for users to engage with what you have to offer. Paid Search can help. Strong SEO is table stakes. And of course, including online display along with other media in an integrated campaign helps reinforce and drive traffic.

Site side metrics are still important and driving people to your site to engage them remains key. However, relying solely on an ad click to facilitate this customer experience is dangerous and impractical.

It presents a challenge to our industry. Account Management must deliver clear strategy for concise storytelling. Creatives must be able to communicate impactful, relevant and complete messages inside ad units. And of course media needs to continue to run communication against a targeted audience in the most relevant environments. We still must learn and optimize continually.

However, we must evolve the use of online display if we are to continue to recommend this media in our campaigns and ensure we use this medium the best way for the greatest impact on our audiences. If we stay tied to the click, our favorability with our clients will inevitably go by the way of user CTR.