Beyond the click-through

The New York Times has a good article about the ever changing face of advertising metrics.

Google is now offering a piece of code that advertisers can place on their site to track users that come from Google-placed ads.

The article talks about how this is leading to more effective campaigns.

True, the data it provides is a very valuable metric. But I’d caution managers not to base all of their decisions on this glorified click-through data.

I have two words for ad managers focusing on click-through performance: Trinity Homes.

What? You ask.

While I was working at The Indianapolis Star, Trinity Homes had purchased the top right ad avail on our home page.

The ad was a square, non-moving, non-flash, non-jumping, non-beeping, non-everthing ad. It was a purple square with the company’s triangle logo and their name.

That’s the power of branding. I saw that ad, I still remember that ad, and probably will for years to come. And, I assure you, if I’m ever back in Indianapolis and looking for home, I guarantee I’m going to look at Trinity Homes’ Web site.

This is a round-about way of coming to my point: there is more value in online advertising than the click-through alone.

There are four key things that have to be in place for a potential buyer to act on an ad and make a purchase.

The first three we can borrow from one of my favorite shows: motive, means and opportunity.

1. *Motive* – Not to kill, but to buy. As a potential purchaser I must have a need or a want for a type of product. When I see advertisements for the best computer, ever I realize that I want a new G5.
2. *Means* – I must have the means to purchase a product. In the case of the G5, I don’t have the money :-(.
3. *Opportunity* – This is often less of a factor online, but worth mentioning. Can I get to your store? Is your site down? Do I have the time to go there (either online or bricks and mortar)? Will you sell to me (ask about British folks who would like to try the iTunes Music Store)?

If an ad can reach a potential buyer who meets all three criteria — a daunting task, when you think about — there’s the fourth and final one to consider — product.

4. *Product* – Does the product have the features, price, quality, etc. that the buyer wants? Meeting this is the onus of the advertiser, it’s completely out of the control of the publication carrying the ad. Let me put it this way, no matter how many ads Microsoft puts on TV, in print, and on the Web. I will never, ever, ever buy Longhorn. It’s simply not an OS that meets/will meet my standards….

Now previously, click-through rates could measure how many customers that met the first three criteria were coming to an advertiser’s Web site.

If you had the motivation to buy a type of product, the means to buy it, and the opportunity — on the Web this mostly means you’re willing to surf away from the site you explicity set out to view… — then you _might_ click on an ad.

But now, with post-click tracking, advertisers are going to demand that their campaigns deliver the impossible — viewers who have motive, means, opportunity and are completely happy with the product the company is offering.

This is a simplified model, to say the least, it doesn’t account for online factors like a fear of credit card security, users lack of affinity for paying shipping costs, etc. It also doesn’t account for whether the ad is well crafted, on message, etc.

Let’s revisit Trinity Homes, shall we.

If I need a house (motive), and I have the money for one (means), and I’m in Indianapolis (opportunity), AND Trinity sells homes in a neighborhood I want to be in that are the right size at the right price and that are built well (product), then I _might_ buy one.

If I were to buy such a house, and if they were only paying The Star for click-throughs, then Trinity would have gotten free advertising, The Star would have been gypped, and Trinity’s metrics wouldn’t have me on their radar at all.

Disclaimer: I have no idea what Trinity’s contract with The Star is like, this is just an example.

Because, if I need a house, and I have the money, and I’m in Indy, and they’re good houses, I’m not going to go back to the newspaper’s Web site just to click on the link.

I’m going to do like anyone else would, I’m going to Google Trinity Homes, because I will have remembered that purple box with the white triangle logo.

That, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg called “branding.”

And that’s why pure click-through rates/models are wrong…

Branding may be less easy to track than click-throughs, but there are ways. The easiest is to run a campagin and see if your visits go up. Stop the campaign. Start it again later, if your traffic goes up then — tada — your advertising works.

More publisher-friendly methods include those mentioned in the article, like Gamespot’s.

For instance, when Electronic Arts is advertising Madden 2004, Gamespot lets the company know how many people are hitting coverage about the game as well as giving them traffic figures for Madden’s competiting products.

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4 Responses to Beyond the click-through

  1. aaron wall says:

    On big ticket items your point is well taken. On smaller items though I do not think it is too out of reach to expect many of the things to fall into line. Especialy if the user types in searches like “buy staind cd”.

    It must be somewhat effective if over 100,000 people are doing it!

  2. Chris Heisel says:

    True, price has an influence on the decision to click through an ad.

    But at the same time, another strong factor to consider is the way people surf. They’re out looking for information — so on a news site, if someone came looking for the latest sports scores, there is a lot of traction working to keep them in the sports section.

    Its going to be difficult to get them out of the sports section, let alone to another (advertisement) site…

    That’s where having good context-senstive ads can help alot, but there’s still a lot to overcome in order to deliver a reader to an advertiser’s site…

  3. Honymann says:


    the way you propose to track the “branding effect” of a banner campaign is still highly inaccurate does not help anybody who is on a really tight budget. Rather on should probably work with a bonus (expressend in percent) on the clicks received through a compaign.

    This bonus probably depends on factors such as:
    – is the brand/product advertised well known or not (positive effect)
    – the intensity of advertising (positive effect)
    – is the advertising concentrated on a few sites (positive effect

    This at least gives you the chance to calculate a “cost per customer” (even if it is an estimation) that helps you to run your marketing on a day-to-day basis.

  4. Chris Heisel says:

    I agree that click-throughs should be seen as a bonus.

    But unfortunately they seem to be the primary metric for measuring success in the online world.

    Rather they should be a bonus, as you said, to the impression. Because I’d argue that the act of merely seeing the ad is a value to the customer and publishers should be rewarded for that as well as click-throughs.

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