It’s a stance we’ve taken for years—don’t get too caught up in the clickthrough rate. Sure, CTR has traditionally been the go-to metric for display ads; we see it all the time when we’re asked to provide Flite’s average clickthrough in meetings. I was recently involved in reviewing Flite’s latest benchmarks, and we debated whether we should even include CTR for this and future versions. We ultimately decided we would, but agreed that when we circulate these numbers, we make clear to our customers that clickthrough is not the metric to get stuck on.

USA Today published an insightful article a couple weeks ago that explored a new trend away from emphasizing CTR and instead towards engagement rates—an article I’d like to draw heavily from in writing this post, given its significance.

Let’s back up a bit. What’s so wrong with clickthrough? Well, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it, but it’s important to understand that this metric only tells part of the story. Simply, clickthrough does not necessarily translate to ad effectiveness. Although clickthroughs indicate active participation from the user and generate traffic, there ultimately exists a missing link between CTR and branding effectiveness. In other words, a good CTR does not translate to effective messaging. Research, in fact, has shown that online advertising is effective even when CTR is low.

A Microsoft report references a study that found “consumers are 25 times more likely to spend meaningful time on a rich media ad than they are to click on it.” A comScore report also identified no correlation between measured attitude towards a brand and the number of times an ad for that brand was clicked. Both reports acknowledge the impact of ads regardless of CTR. The takeaway from both is that exposure to an ad is far more significant than the act of clicking on it.

Indeed, the emphasis on the clickthrough is probably part of the reason so many people dislike Internet ads—being prompted to click through ad after ad is tiring. That’s why our company mission is centered on making ads more engaging and helpful, ensuring a better overall Internet experience.

This means delivering relevant, useful content in ads that engages users, in turn significantly impacting brand awareness and effectiveness. Ads should no longer be about just grabbing the attention of the viewer; rather, holding onto this attention and creating for the best ad experience for the consumer. It follows logically, then, that engagement serves as the most relevant metric. The mobile experience is especially of relevance here, where the tapthrough is of even less importance. Any advertiser would prefer for its consumers to make an in-the-moment purchase as part of the in-ad experience, as opposed to tapping through the ad, right?

Engagement, more so than clickthrough, tells a fuller picture about whether the user is reacting to an ad and finding the content to be interesting or useful. Once a user engages with an ad, whether that user clicks on or taps through the ad loses importance.

We’ve seen this firsthand through our CONTENT@SCALE product, which enables brands to stream premium evergreen publisher content into mobile and display ads. The CTR across these ads is good, sure—but what is really impactful is the engagement metrics. We’ve learned that the most relevant content translates to the best engagement rates, not necessarily the best CTR. And we know that engagement translates to ad effectiveness, because it’s what our customers tell us.

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Many publishers are beginning to recognize this notion that CTR provides limited information, and are instead emphasizing “audience attention” as a selling point to their advertisers. The Financial Times is a pioneer in this arena, having decided to charge for ads based on amount of time spent on the unit. Forbes and The Economist have recently taken similar strides. These are bold moves, but it’s only a matter of time before other publishers follow suit. 

Compared to clickthrough, engagement is a more valuable and representative metric to gauge the effectiveness of an ad. As we move away from ads emphasizing clickthrough and towards those centered on engagement, we’ll start to see better ads across the web that enhance the overall Internet experience. This is a key trend that will have far-reaching implications.