Reporting 7 Min Read

Chasing Clicks Can Hurt Performance

Written by Tim Edmundson

For a very long time, clicks have been seen as a key metric for performance marketers. We’ve long debated the value of putting faith in clicks; we see last-click attribution as a flawed approach that really does not tell the full story when it comes to performance. As we’ve said before, the last click on a creative deserves some credit, but to give it all is akin to working on a group project and only giving the person who hands it in a grade.

Last click attribution ignores the bulk of the work your campaigns accomplish, whether it be the retargeting ads that keep your brand top of mind, or an in-view ad that sparks a user to search your brand and ultimately convert. Those ads were just as responsible in driving a conversion than one that was clicked, but an outdated model like last-click ignores them completely.

We’re not saying clicks have no value, they do. They can give insight into what ads are driving engagement. But hinging your entire view of performance on them can skew things a bit. According to new research from Flashtalking, a third party ad server, high click-through rates can actually correlate with poor campaign conversion performance. That’s a big discovery, and if you’re a marketer that puts total faith in clicks, you may want to think twice.


Click-Through Rates May Not Lead to Conversion Performance

Flashtalking’s research discovered an interesting angle when it comes to pinning performance on clicks. They found that creative with low click-through rates tends to drive better conversion performance, while ads generating high amounts of clicks saw weaker performance.

Why do high click rates equate to poorer conversion performance? Just because a user clicks on an ad doesn’t mean they are actually going to convert. This fact alone makes clicks a poor indicator of true performance; it’s the equivalent of a brick and mortar shop owner measuring their store’s bottom line based on how many people browse around. Those shoppers don’t amount to much if they don’t buy anything, and those clicks aren’t a good indicator of creative that drives conversions. It would be one thing if clicks were the only way to measure performance, but they aren’t. In fact, they could actually be doing marketers a disservice.


Clicks Keep Marketers from Smart Optimization

Focusing on clicks keeps you from being able to collect relevant data that will actually tell you which creative is performing, and which is not. If your CTR is high on a particular ad set, you may think it’s doing its job. But as Flashtalking’s research shows, creative with lower CTR actually can do a better job at driving conversions. Making campaign optimization decisions based on clicks will actually punish better performing creative.

Optimizing based on clicks will have you chasing shadows and keep better performing campaigns out of reach. What’s more, it can actually play into the hands of one of the worst scourges of digital marketing — ad fraud.


Clicks Are Vulnerable to Fraud

There are well-founded concerns about using clicks as a reliable metric. Aside from the issues around giving proper credit and preventing intelligent optimizations, clicks are extremely vulnerable to fraudulent activity. Adweek reported that over 60% of all internet traffic in 2015 was from bots, and updated numbers from The Atlantic state it was at 52% in 2017. While it’s nice to see a dip, that is still an astronomical amount of bot traffic on the internet. And, a lot of it is used to click on ads to inflate performance.

This is a major reason why SteelHouse created Verified Visits, which ties performance metrics to revenue and conversions instead of clicks. By basing performance on actual results, advertisers get a clear view on their campaign’s true impact. And because it doesn’t rely only on clicks to measure ad performance, instead tracking user site visits after they’ve been served an in-view ad, you know which creative are driving user action, and which aren’t.

Click-based attribution is just too vulnerable to fraud. Coupled with its other issues, marketers would do well to look to other metrics to gauge their ad performance.


If You Want Actual Performance, Don’t Rely Solely on Clicks

Flashtalking’s research reveals the inherent flaws in pinning performance to clicks. They just don’t give you enough information to be a reliable way of judging your campaign’s effectiveness, and followed too closely, can actually harm your ability to effectively reach your customers. So if you’re still putting your faith in clicks, now’s the time to change it up, and look for a better way to measure performance.