Life After the Click-Through

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In a recent op-ed, I explored how marketing's dependence on click-through has impaired the success of the banner. The feedback was encouraging -- a lot of smart people recognize that the banner's future, and advertising in general, can't be built upon an action that's wildly unpopular with consumers. At the same time, it's also evident that there isn't a clear path to move past the click. How do advertisers separate from something so embedded in our industry's thinking and practices? How do we ditch the click?

The greatest incentive for change may come from understanding the advantages of eliminating the click dependency. If it is truly meaningless, then we should be able to extract it without great pains, and hopefully, with great benefit. Let's take a look at what marketing would look like in post-CTR world.

Clarifying goals

The click's greatest accomplishment may be its omnipresence -- you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the industry who isn't familiar with it or a platform that doesn't support it. The click offers talking points where they might not otherwise exist; if a campaign objective isn't clear, one can always default here. Likewise, if performance needs more context, there are plenty of benchmarks to reference.

This means that stepping away from the click eliminates a safety net for campaign analysis. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The click has served as a substitute for more meaningful evaluation and so, without it, a more deliberate conversation around goals will have to take place. Yes, it's more work to ensure that everyone throughout every phase of a campaign is aligned toward the more relevant goal, but it's the kind of work that leads to better results.

Better metrics

Today, it almost seems that moving consumers from point A to point B has become secondary to the measurement of that action. You can see this in campaigns that track CTR, but not site activity. You can see it in ads that give up real estate to a call-to-action, but don't invest in landing pages. You can see it in ads that add a URL "just in case." Some brands do offer a meaningful click experience, but inconsistency has undermined its value.

This would be a crisis -- if technology hadn't already enabled better metrics. Transactional campaigns, for instance, are no longer beholden to coupons and 800 numbers to measure visits and sales; the tech is here to measure web and in-store visits, as well as sales lift. The click is just a data point in a broader and more insightful analysis.

The click hasn't delivered much for awareness campaigns, so removing it could allow advertisers to shift attention to the factors they can control in order to optimize an emotional connection. This includes an understanding of the consumer's receptivity at a given time, the relevance of the message and the amount of time an impression was present to spark the connection. With better control over the conditions that drive positive connections, advertisers don't need the click.

A return to confidence

By the time it became evident that consumers weren't fans of ad clicks, advertisers were already hooked on the feedback. And so, despite poor performance, click fraud and better judgment, the ritual continued. New ad formats were invented to drive clicks, some employing shady practices.

Of course, consumers like their brands to have swagger -- when it's missing, they know it. This is perhaps the biggest gain in a post-click universe: if advertisers can free themselves from the repetitive injury that is click-through, they can start to rehabilitate the broader ad experience. There is no influence without confidence, so better creative, smarter formats and less friction can turn the tides back in the favor of good advertising.

While life after click-through is promising, some will point out that it's not possible to return to a pre-click mindset. They're not incorrect, but it also isn't really an issue. For all its shortcomings, the click has taught us a lot about data -- for instance, that it's not always valuable -- and given great insight into what we can and can not expect from consumers. Nothing is stopping us from embracing those lessons and still bidding farewell to the click.

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