Do We Still Need A Click-Through Rate Debate?
There seemed to be general industry consensus that click-through rate served one purpose, and only one purpose--and that was to compare the performance of creative executions. If the "Buy Now" banner has a higher click-through rate than the "Half-price" banner, you can safely say that the "Buy Now" banner is generating more interest, and therefore is the higher-performing banner.
Apparently, however, click-through rate is alive and well in our industry. It is misleading agencies and clients alike about the performance of the Web sites of a campaign. If Site A has a higher click-through rate than Site B, does that mean Site A is performing better? Is Site A's audience more interested in our product? What if our campaign's click-through rate is .52 percent or .25 percent? Is one or the other good, bad, or average? Click-through rate can't really answer these questions for us because there is a lot to consider behind that number.
When attempting to examine the performance of one site versus another in a campaign, we need to look at as many factors as possible--with consideration of the objective, of course. Sites have many different characteristics that affect performance beyond just the audience type or demographics, for example. For instance, does the site have a high percentage of loyal and frequent visitors or a high percentage of wham-bam-thank you ma'am visitors who get what they need and never return? If most of the visitors are loyal, there is a greater chance of excess frequency to these users and a smaller chance of clicks against these impressions. This would result in a very low click-through rate. But if you can buy this type of audience at a very low rate, the cost of that click could be very efficient, and therefore an important part of a traffic-driving campaign.
If you are still reporting the click-through rates of sites in any reporting presented to clients, I implore you to stop. Because it is so easy to look at and talk about, it becomes the go-to metric for so many folks, and its use undermines the complexity of online media measurement. Even clients who have embraced the Internet still resort back to that little number. It is a number that is so meaningless--and sometimes even dangerous--that when used by an untrained professional it can wreak havoc that can result in hours of de-programming that even hundreds of PowerPoint slides can't achieve.
If you've read this far, I thank you for believing in me that talking about click-through rate is still important. If you think I'm overreacting, let me know. We are building an industry here, folks--we have to work together to make it the best it can be.