Time to bury the CTR?

Once the digital media industry’s darling metric, click-through rates are finally assuming their rightful place — at the bottom of the heap. Marketers at top national brands have moved away from CTRs as a pivotal measure of campaign performance, folding them into a sea of better, more quantified metrics now available.

Indeed, positioning the click-through rate as anything more than a directional metric seems like an old “new media” tactic. “I think one of the worst things the industry has done is hang our hat on a click-through rate,” said Jeff Cole, digital marketing director for Jack Daniel’s.

Cole has worked in the digital marketing industry since the late 1990s, the dawn of the Internet as we know it. Click-through rates were among the first engagement metrics marketers could point to in order to move money online. It was more than the general circulation and overstated “pass-along” figures print publication relied on, but still light years behind what the industry is capable of today.

Even then, Cole felt the click-through rate was not all it was cracked up to be. “I still remember doing reports emphasizing click-through rates are not that important. … What’s your objective? Measure against your objective.”

Nearly 15 years into the 21st century, there has been “great evolution,” Cole said, among marketers who have come to understand that click-through doesn’t always signal purchase intent. In fact, a recent campaign analysis by DataXu found that the audiences that click most often on ads are not the ones who follow through with an action — requesting a quote, searching a store location, downloading a coupon.

Click-through rate may help in A/B testing or tracking publisher performance, but marketers are now looking for data that helps them understand path-to-purchase, leaning on measurements that signal a stronger connection to the brand.

“I prefer the magic eight ball ingredient,” that is social marketing, Cole said. As a liquor brand, Jack Daniel’s and other Brown-Forman brands are more interested in social and site engagement than driving to online sales, which is largely forbidden worldwide. A recent holiday campaign, for example, invited consumers to submit their bad holiday gifts using the hashtag #Itsthethoughtthatcounts and resulted in an average time-on-site measurement of more than five minutes, Cole said.

The campaign, created by Arnold Worldwide in Boston, also drove site visits and voting. Taken together, the work was judged a success.

“We can’t be an industry that focuses on collecting all the data we need and we’ll think of a use for it later,” Cole said. “We’re just at a point now where we have so much data.”

Online retailer Modcloth works hard to home in on those relevant metrics that help determine path-to-purchase and judge campaign success by channel, said Theresa Rockovich, search marketing manager at Modcloth.

Rather than relying solely on CTR, reporting muddied by accidental and fraudulent clicks, Modcloth relies on a more nuanced mix of data that includes publisher engagement metrics like unique visitors, time on site and bounce rate, as well as social sharing and unique site engagement measures like the retailer’s “Love It” button.

The company also employs “multiple metric optimization” formulas when determining campaign success, varying the ingredients when gauging brand awareness campaigns versus direct sales campaigns, for example.

The downside of that kind of meticulous reporting is a lot of time spent in spreadsheets, particularly for companies without a data platform.

“Paid media reporting is a beast,” Rockovich said. “The folks on our team are swimming in data every day, so there’s a lot of time spent and pivoting in Excel, but we condense and consolidate. So we’re looking at unique metrics by channel.”

The marketing team at Sony not only calculates how well online ads drive e-commerce, but also foot traffic and in-store purchasing, said Kelly DeGuzman, media manager at Sony. The brand uses a revenue attribution model to determine how online marketing, traditional and out-of-home work together to drive sales.

Demand for the click-through rate hasn’t disappeared, but it has been severely diminished. It’s now just one of many metrics that determine a campaign’s health. There are so many measurement tools to use in today’s media landscape, marketers find relying on solely an archaic metric like the click-through doesn’t make sense.

Image via Shutterstock

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