Study: For Display Ads Clicks Have “Nearly Zero” Correlation With Conversion

For many years many publishers and researchers have been fighting a battle against the “tyranny of the click.” They’ve been trying to argue that clicks are a poor metric to rely upon in assessing digital ad campaign performance. Digital measurement firm comScore has been a vocal advocate of developing an alternative set of metrics — especially when it comes to display and rich media advertising.

Another study supporting that argument, from comScore and Pretarget, argues that “ad viewability and hover time are more strongly correlated with conversions (defined as purchases and requests for information) than clicks or total impressions.” Indeed, comScore added that clicks/CTRs have “virtually zero correlation with total conversions.”

The study looked at “263 million [display] impressions over nine months across 18 advertisers in numerous verticals.” It determined whether ads were actually being viewed vs simply counting ad-server requests, which comScore and Pretarget argue doesn’t guarantee that an ad is actually rendered in a browser.

An earlier comScore study discovered that an average 31 percent of display ads/impressions were never seen by end users. In some cases and on some sites that number was as high as 91 percent. That’s partly because some of these ads were served “below the fold” and a majority of users simply don’t scroll down the page.

The new comScore-Pretarget study found that the main metrics being used to measure display campaigns (impressions delivered and clicks) are simply not well correlated with conversions:

The results showed that ad hover/interaction (correlation = 0.49) and viewable impressions (correlation = 0.35) had highest correlation with conversion, while gross impressions (correlation = 0.17) was significantly lower. Perhaps most interestingly, clicks (correlation = 0.01) had the lowest correlation with conversion, far under-performing all other metrics analyzed in the study.

ComScore urges marketers to “break their addiction to clicks and instead look to more meaningful metrics for evaluating campaign performance.” However there’s so much “inertia” around the use of clicks as a performance metric — especially since CTR does mean something in a search context — that comScore’s plea may continue to be ignored.

As mentioned, there has been a steady drumbeat of this kind of data for the past few years. It goes back to a comScore study in 2008 called “Natural Born Clickers” that found “16 percent of people were responsible for 80 percent of all display advertising clicks.”

Yet what may finally overthrow the click as the primary currency in display advertising is the effort to bring TV-style brand metrics online. Google’s recent roll out of its “Brand Activate” initiative, which will report whether ads are actually viewed and the TV style “Active GRP” (Gross Rating Point), is an example.

With these “new” metrics Google and, to a similar degree, Facebook are trying to “speak the language” of agencies and TV ad buyers in the hope of capturing more of the billions in traditional brand advertising that has resisted migrating online, despite the fragmentation of traditional media audiences and “time spent” metrics that favor the internet.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Conversion Rate Optimization | Display Advertising | Google: Business Issues | Google: Display Advertising | Statistics: Online Advertising


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Gareth_Sear1

    With reference to the click through rates – do some businesses / agencies see this as a way of influening orgnanic SEO as the more traffic you get the more favourably Google will look at you?

  • oliviamck

    Gareth – It’s been my experience that display definitely influences search behavior (both organic as well as paid). I’ve seen lifts in search performance as much as 65% once display was added to an initiative. The most beneficial use I’ve seen from display is especially if your brand name is unknown – because then consumers search for your brand name, thereby lowering your costs.

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