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Why I’m Going to War Against Click-through Rates

I became a soldier at the Ad Age Digital Conference. I am joining the war on click-through rates (CTR).

Everyone who is anyone in digital advertising knows that CTR is a silly metric. Articles preaching the death of CTR can be found dating back a decade if you look.

But we still use it! We use it all the time. I myself have put CTR as the KPI on a measurement slide. I admit it.

But the fact is clicks on banners do not correlate to brand lift or sales or site traffic or store traffic.

Thanks to some talks at Ad Age’s Digital Conference—specifically Shenan Reed from MEC and Tony Haile from Chartbeat—I have the courage to shun CTR. I have that courage because they put the data in front of me and it implicitly makes sense. It’s not clicks that create lift; it’s time. “Brand recall increases 30% for readers who spend 10 seconds with an ad versus five.” We’ve been transacting in time on TV for decades; why shouldn’t we apply that knowledge to digital?

I don’t think we’re ready to fully transact on time. I’m just not as courageous as Shenan, I guess. But I do think we are more than ready to optimize to time and report on it and use it to calculate success in advertising.

So I’m going to war. I’m not going to lie to myself or my clients and say that click-through rate is a proxy for awareness or engagement or anything else. If the goal is awareness, let’s get a brand study and ask people if they are aware. If it’s sales, let’s track them. If it’s store traffic, let’s conduct a foot traffic study.

Just because we can measure something doesn’t mean it matters. We have amazing measurement tools in this space, so let’s use them.

I’m a media planner and I think I create some damn good plans, and I’m going to prove it—really prove it—by measuring what counts, not clicks.

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