With MediaPost's Behavioral Marketing Forum coming up next week in New York City, I thought that this was a good time to revisit an issue which has been hanging around our industry for a long, long time: the extraordinary fascination that everyone has with click-through rates. We've had this issue ever since we've had clickable Web ads, since late 1994, at least. Of course, in fairness some of the early proprietary online services like Prodigy had clickables as well, so we've really had this click-rate fascination since the late 1980s. What fascination am I talking about? I'm talking about the fact that no one can run an online ad campaign without someone asking what the click-rate was. It doesn't matter if the objective of the campaign was to increase brand awareness or purchase intent, or to sell stuff online, everyone always wants to talk about the campaign click-rate first and foremost. It's not surprising. Clickable ads are one of the things that makes online different and better than its traditional print and broadcast brethren. Further, since advertisers and their agencies know campaign flight dates and impression counts when they buy a campaign, the click-rate number tends to be the only piece of information that they receive on their campaign reports from publishers that they didn't already know, so it's not unusual that they focus on it. Finally, the extraordinary success of search advertising and its click-based purchase model has given even more credence to our industry's focus and fascination with clicking. Is this a bad thing? I think so. What does this have to do with behavioral marketing? A lot. While focusing on clicks makes a lot of sense in search advertising, since the audience has already been highly qualified by their search term and is "hand-raising" -- announcing their interest in a particular product or service or activity -- it is logical to focus on a click as a very good proxy for the generation of a qualified lead. It makes sense. It works. The market loves it; Google will do more than $10 billion in revenue selling clicks this year. No further discussion needed, right? Not the case when it comes to display ads delivered on Web pages containing content or applications, where the audience is not in an active search- and-buy mode. We have known (or at least believed) for years that some people like to click on banner ads, and many others don't. While it's never been the subject of a lot of research, it's something that most of us have believed intuitively. Fortunately, now with the introduction of sophisticated behavioral targeting systems and massive behavioral networks, we can now know what we always believed. At my company, where we see more than 11 billion behaviors every day, we decided to analyze several months of our behavioral and click data to try to determine whether most or many people click on ads, and of those that do, whether they are different than the Web population in general. What did we learn? A lot. We learned that most people do not click on ads, and those that do are by no means representative of Web users at large. Ninety-nine percent of Web users do not click on ads on a monthly basis. Of the 1% that do, most only click once a month. Less than two tenths of one percent click more often. That tiny percentage makes up the vast majority of banner ad clicks. Who are these "heavy clickers"? They are predominantly female, indexing at a rate almost double the male population. They are older. They are predominantly Midwesterners, with some concentrations in Mid-Atlantic States and in New England. What kinds of content do they like to view when they are on the Web? Not surprisingly, they look at sweepstakes far more than any other kind of content. Yes, these are the same people that tend to open direct mail and love to talk to telemarketers. What does all of this mean? It means that while clickers may be valuable audiences, they are by no means representative of the Web at large. Focusing campaigns to optimize on clicks means skewing campaigns to optimize on middle-aged women from the Midwest. If these folks are not your target, then you should be ignoring the click-rate and looking deeper, to what audience your impressions are being delivered, and what audiences are converting (there is a large body of evidence that shows that click-rates and conversion rates rarely correlate with each other).