Don’t Rely on CTR. How to Really Judge Campaign Performance


Remember when click-through rate (CTR) was the gold standard of metrics? Teams would allocate their digital display advertising dollars based on how many people were clicking on ads and being directed to a brand’s website. That was, they believed, the best measurement for campaign success; the ability to inspire people to click. And conveniently, clicks proved easy to track. Marketers liked CTR because they could easily pull reports that showed “results” to their clients.

But as time went on, most of those marketers and their clients realized there wasn’t always a correlation between clicks and revenue. Even today, many companies see great CTR only to find their sales or conversions stay flat.

Today we know that clicks alone are a poor barometer of campaign success. But just in case your team – or someone in control of your budget – is still preoccupied with CTR, let’s explore why it’s just not that valuable as a metric.

Let’s start with marketing’s Right Trifecta. When we advertise, we’re trying to reach the right person, at the right time, with the right message. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s accurate. Influence is our real goal – not getting someone to click. We want our ad to spark a purchase, true. But a click can be more disconnected from purchase than you think.

So why do non-buyers click? Well, some people just like to look, even if they have no intention of buying. Some could be bots. Another, very simple reason: many clicks are actually people just trying to close the ad. They try to hit the tiny “X” that will make the ad disappear and accidentally click through. Google found this out when it changed YouTube pre-roll ad placements last year. Once users could only click through by clicking a link, as opposed to clicking anywhere in the video ad, CTRs dropped a dramatic 1 million impressions less, resulting in an average of 7,700 fewer clicks. Google concluded many of the former clicks were accidental.

The conclusion is inescapable: people who click aren’t always people who convert.

So what metrics really matter?

Here’s what really counts in display: the actions people take after they see your ad. Maybe they visit your site or search on your product. Maybe they connect to you on social or download some of your content (we’ve talked about why Content is King in the sales process – give it a read). That’s the surefire sign that you served up a relevant message to the right person at the right time, and that’s what you should be measuring. Distinguish between post-click revenue and post-view ROI revenue, and you’ll have insights that will tell you more than any CTR report.
Insights such as… if searchers are triggered by certain campaigns at certain stages in the buying cycle. The impact of location, time of day and recency on performance, and which CTAs are driving transactions. That’s the only way you’ll spot the path to creating memorable and relevant ads. The viewer still may not click – but the ad will be influential in terms of the purchase decision.

Sometimes, with all of metrics factoring into our strategies, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. We’re paying for performance, not a quota of clicks or impressions. At the end of the day, we’re here to create leads and actual sales conversions, so be sure you measure what matters.