Measuring online ads: Ditch CTR and Programmatic


  • Display ads are usually reported to have an overall click rate of about five clicks in ten thousand ads served. If you want to know why the web is so appallingly littered with ads, it’s because to get five clicks you have to run 10,000 ads.
  • You’re more likely to complete Navy Seal training than click on a banner ad. According to research company Lumen only 9% of banner ads are even noticed for a second.
  • The idea that the same consumer who was gleefully clicking her remote to escape from TV ads was going to joyfully click her mouse to interact with online ads is going to go down as one of the great marketing fantasies of all time.
  • Not all ads need, however, to be clicked on to be successful. Communicating a key message to your audience may result in a great online media campaign.

By most measures only about 50% of traffic on the web is human and reliable studies show that CTRs have little to no correlation to ad effectiveness, yet it is still the most widely utilized measurement (or Key Performance Indicator, in ad jargon) of online advertising performance. It’s time to move beyond CTR.

There are two important aspects for successful online ads. The first is the creative of the ad, the second is the ad viewability.

Online Ad Creative is Essential

You can tell that most online ads are repurposed offline ads. Agencies pull some of the creative and put it in an online ad. That’s a complete waste of money. Think of it this way: you’re in an elevator with your prospect and have 2-4 seconds to communicate something about your product or brand. What’s it going to be?

People online have the attention span of a gnat. People will not click on your ad to find out about your new croissant pizza crust, but they will remember the ad if there is a great image of the new pizza. A good online media campaign focuses on creative, but that’s not enough. The creative needs to be optimized for your site’s audience. The same ad doesn’t work on every website, but today, programmatic have led to the same ads on almost every site even though the metrics for programmatic ads stink.

The second aspect is ad viewability. Ad viewability is the concept of how visible ads on a website or mobile app are to users. For an ad to be considered “viewed”, at least 50% of the banner or creative must display on screen for more than one second, as defined by the Internet Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) standard for what consists a viewable impression.

The other aspect of viewability that’s important is where the placement of the ad is on the website. Ads that are on the top of the page or left hand side fair better than ads that occupy other areas of a site.

Should you be measuring your online ads?

This is a huge question that has no simple answer. I tell clients that the most important metric for their online ads is to ensure that the ads were actually served on legitimate websites that align with their target audience.

I recently analyzed a CPG client’s online ads CTR and found that more than half of the CTR was caused by BOTS or dead sites. When I showed the advertising director what I meant by visiting a click-through customer, they became incensed. However, when they told their agency to ditch the programmatic and place the ads manually on sites that aligned with their target audience, the CTR not only increased, there was hardly any fraud.

Their agency also recommended rotating creative on the same sites to measure the ads another way. We were able to sideline the ads that had low click through rates and use the better creative instead.

Some brands also understand that online ads are part of an integrated campaign that all advertising should be evaluated against key brand objectives rather than measuring each silo. TV, in conjunction with online ads, provides better metrics than either TV or online alone.

A big part of our job, as digital marketers, is to educate people within the organization on the evolution of online ads ads. The last thing you want is an executive telling you to cut your online budget because the CTRs are low.

About richmeyer

Rich is a passionate marketer who is able to quickly understand what turns a prospect into a customer. He challenges the status quo and always asks "what can we do better"? He knows how to take analytics and turn them into opportunities and he is a great communicator.

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