Who's Clicking Where, From What?

Mobilistas with semi-long memories will recall the first wave of Apple iPhone ads that featured the landing page of The "Full Web Browser" seemed to be a key selling point for the device. Now you can browse the "real Web," said the iPhone apostles.


It seems revealing that we don't see that feature touted much anymore in the iPhone ads. My hunch is that Apple soon recognized what many people already knew: browsing the full Web on a handheld device is not optimal. "Portable-izing" this purported "real Web" is a bright shiny thing in the marketing materials, but in everyday mobile life it is a disappointment. Navigation on most major sites is enough of a bear, but adding a layer of zooming and pinching may be impressive in the hardware demo but not for day-to-day mobile drive-bys.

I have had this argument with a number of mobile browser makers, and I know there is a whole wing of the mobile technology and ad world that thinks there should just be "one Web" we access the same on all devices. Maybe someday, but for the foreseeable future and are infinitely preferable on my Safari browser than the full sites. I think more than a  few mobile users agree.

I mention this because I think there is some confusion out there about new stats that online ad network Chitika released about the clickthrough rates from mobile browsers. The company did a survey of 92 million text ad impressions served across the Web, 1.3 million of which were picked up by mobile browsers. The comparative stats showed that Web-based browsers had an .83% clickthrough rate and mobile had a 0.48% CTR.

IPhone owners were the worst respondents to the ads. I think many saw this stat and interpreted it as indicative of all mobile CTRs. But what Chitika was measuring was the response rate to the same ad on the same Web-formatted site across Web and mobile browsers. I asked Daniel Ruby, Chitika's research director, to clarify this a bit and he confirmed, "we took the same text ads displayed on the Web sites across our network and compared the CTR.  There was no difference in the ads -- just the devices on which the sites with the ads were displayed. More and more mobile users have full browsing capabilities and are becoming visitors to sites running standard ads; I thought their browsing habits should be investigated a bit."

I agree with the premise of the research, but I think the conclusion some people are drawing from the research is a bit wrongheaded. I also can't agree with Ruby's broad conclusion in the report: "it appears that mobile Internet users are disinterested in advertising at an extremely high rate." But there is a difference between the Internet as accessed by a mobile browser and the Mobile Web. What else would we expect? Given the situation, I am a bit surprised the clickthrough rates on this test held that high for mobile. If I am coming into a standard Web site via a mobile browser, I would think several times before clicking on any ad. I assume the experience is not well-calibrated for my device.

Which is not to say this research is irrelevant. Because it measures text ads in particular, there may be warning signs in here for the hurdles mobile search ads may face. This is one place where Google has been trying to unify the Web and mobile worlds. How eager will the user be to click through on a keyword ad in results if he isn't confident of the experience on the other side?

Nevertheless, I am eager to hear what you think about the real rate of clickthroughs on mobile and whether the full Web browsing experience is the one content providers and marketers really should be focusing on.

10 comments about "Who's Clicking Where, From What? ".
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  1. Joy Liuzzo from TBD, September 24, 2009 at 1:22 p.m.

    Thanks for clarifying this Steve! I've gotten numerous emails and calls from clients asking about the discrepancy between the clickthroughs they are seeing in their campaigns and what this research reported. I agree with you that the premise was interesting but the conclusions could have been improved.

  2. Michael Dirmeikis from SMS Text Marketing, September 24, 2009 at 1:35 p.m.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the authors expressed surprise at the reported mobile CTR. Most people don't spend their mobile Web time surfing the Internet, looking for advertising. Mobile browser activity is primarily directed toward a specific objective...looking up a sports score, weather, breaking news, financial results, and the like, and are not likely to be diverted to clicking on an ad. A CTR of .48% would appear to challenge logic.

  3. Lisa Foote from MixMobi, September 24, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

    Excellent clarification. The entire discussion really does beg the question: to what extent does the mobile cloud need its own tools, techniques and measurements. Serving platforms as different as the desktop and mobile with "one web" has turned out to be very difficult. As you point out, even Apple's awesome iPhone interface and very powerful marketing couldn't make it so.

  4. Gene Keenan from isobar, September 24, 2009 at 1:48 p.m.

    Good article Steve. We who actually buy media for mobile all had a good laugh over that Chitika release.

    @Joy Very true. If anything it makes me wonder about the competency of the group who wrote the original piece and why nobody bothered to make clear definitions of what they were actually reporting on

  5. Michael Hirshoren from Grab Media, a Blinkx Corporation, September 24, 2009 at 2:11 p.m.

    The Rhythm team was also a little confused why they would publish this data. The iPhone & Smartphones are our primary platform. We serve 100% of our impressions through the Smartphone application platform (Apple, Android, RIM). I can share some click through rate ranges:

    Served into Video:
    Clickable Full Screen :15 Pre-Roll
    2% - 6%

    Served into Photo's:
    Clickable Full Page Ads
    2% - 7%

    Served into text pages & navigation:
    0.6% - 2.5%

    All the best,


  6. Karl Hourigan, September 24, 2009 at 2:37 p.m.

    Steve, good commentary, thanks for this. I think the real rate of clickthroughs on mobile is not a metric to get hung up on...yet. As mobilistas know, clicking through at this point runs a good chance of taking us to an unfriendly user experience and basically not providing good value for the time it takes. Also, recreating the full web site experience on mobile does not work well in most cases. Until we're confident that clicking through will provide value and not waste time, we're going to be reluctant. Remember dial-up modems? If it takes a long time to load a page or go back after you've clicked and you didn't like where you landed, you become very careful about when you click.

    If we take a look at mobile apps, we see that a good app tends to do a very limited number of things, but do them well in the context of a small handheld device. This kind of focus on the user experience can inform the mobile web experience. In many instances, what a client may need from a web site when they are mobile is not all the same as what they might need from their office desktop or traveling laptop environment.

    Maybe to build a compelling mobile web experience, we need to answer the question "what are the 3 most important things that someone will need to get from our web site when they're mobile?" This could bring some discipline to a company's mobile strategy development.

  7. David Eads, September 24, 2009 at 2:39 p.m.

    Great post Steve. I actually blogged on this yesterday too<a href=""></a>

    Ecommerce-style advertising isn't the only way to monetize mobile, although from the conversations in the marketplace it sometimes seems that way.

    Furthermore, some of the CTR expectations were impossibly high and were destined to be debunked.

    Mobile is used in bite-sized chunks. I think mobile users are often more task oriented and less likely to go down a path unrelated to completing their task.

    David Eads
    Founder, Mobile Strategy Partners LLC

  8. Daniel Ruby from Localytics, September 24, 2009 at 3:41 p.m.

    Steve, you make a lot of good points - and in hindsight, I agree that our initial conclusion may have been rather broad. I wanted to do as apples-to-apples of a comparison as could be done on mobile users, and I think the data sheds a little light on the psychology of a mobile Web user.

    As for the higher rate of clicks than you expected, I put some of that at the feet of accidental clicks - also helps explain the iPhone's low rate, as it's a truer browsing experience and, in my experience, not as easy to make a mistake click on an ad.

    Mobile search ads do seem to have several hurdles to deal with - it should be noted that our ads are based on search queries rather than contextual, so they're similar to actual search engine ads, albeit embedded within a site. Even properly determining a user's intent, given people's preconceptions about mobile browsing speed and ads' traditional lack of mobile formatting, I think it's highly unlikely that people would intentionally choose an ad over an organic link (particularly if the link is a "name" source).

  9. Eric Johnson, September 24, 2009 at 4:38 p.m.

    Steve - completley agree with you on the mobile web experience, and the other comments, I go to the mobile web for super specific stuff, cause i am on the go. if something compelling pops up yeah I'll check it out.

    Should banner ads ought to have some sort of "mini icon" inidcating that you are going somewhere mobile and not to full fledged site?

    Would we elminate the guess work on why someone clicked through, might have better idea that people actually wanted to go there?

  10. Patrick Collins, September 29, 2009 at 1:54 a.m.

    for Chitika, I suspect, any press is good press.

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