It's Time For Time To Replace Meaningless Click-Throughs

It's not going to happen overnight, but trust me, little by little digital advertising is going to embrace a time-based metric as a replacement for -- or perhaps initially a supplement to -- click-throughs and impressions.

I've blogged about this being my firm conviction before, and was glad to see BMW sign a deal with a design Web site last year that was based around time rather than an ad simply being served to so many people momentarily. Now we have news that a guiding influence in The Guardian's redesigned Web site has been the ability to offer advertisers campaigns based around time, not simply impressions. Quite how this will pan out is not yet entirely clear but what is certain is that The Guardian has changed its units away from static boxes that sit in isolation at the top and the bottom of a page hoping to hit the one-second rule by which an impression can legally be seen as served.

Instead, messages will be measured by how long a viewer had the opportunity to see them -- and one can imagine that The Guardian may well choose to do this across different static and rich media units in campaigns that will be able to report back that people were exposed to branding for the agreed amount of time. Of course, this could be extended to run across a typical month or six-week campaign to show that a certain percentage of the brand's target audience were exposed to its message for x amount of time on x number of occasions.

Does that sound a bit like television? Good, because I think that's the point here.

Advertisers are clearly fed up with digital display's lack of guaranteed transparency on viewability and click-fraud. One of the obvious benefits of the move to time is that you can, hopefully, weed out the robots and fake clicks and concentrate on those people who appear to be spending enough time to show they are human and are enjoying the content -- framed, of course, by the brand's message.

With click-throughs at less than one in a thousand and brands not even really trusting that those clicks are coming from human beings, the click-through rate (CTR) is in dire need of being replaced. It's effectively meaningless because it measures actions that are so rare they are likely to have come from a robot and it detracts from the branding and "share of voice" the majority of large advertisers now use digital display for. 

So, mark these words, it may be a slow march, but time is coming and, in some form or another, it will replace impressions and CTRs with reports of how long an advertiser's key audience has been shown its messaging and on how many occasions.

When advertisers start asking for time-based metrics and publishers like The Guardian begin to respond, you know it's really only a matter of time.

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