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10 ways to boost falling click-through rates

10 ways to boost falling click-through rates Reid Carr

When running any display campaign, there is always that moment when I simply just want to know, basically, how it's going? I love the creative, and I think the concept is solid. I know that the ads launched only about an hour ago, but I just can't help but log in and witness the real-time action of the most successful campaign ever. My heart sinks when I log in and see a 0 percent click-through rate (CTR).

Now, I know that there just isn't enough data to extrapolate that early on in a campaign. So I try not to overreact. I choose to wait, impatiently, because I know that the team has considered -- or will consider -- the points that I outline in this article.

Could your campaigns benefit from one or more of these tactics?

1. Test
I wanted to cite this as tactic No. 1 because it should be at the forefront of any advice or recommendation that I outline. While there are "best practices," we've concluded through experience and testing that things are always changing and each case is unique. You have to establish appropriate rules for testing to give everything a fair shake. But once you've done that, establish a hypothesis and go.

Rule nothing out. You will be amazed at what is successful. But beware: Don't let any finding become your secret sauce that you turn to for everything. Every campaign, client, product, placement, and timing causes your targets to react differently -- so be on your toes every time.

2. Change your units
In the first few days or weeks (depending on volume), you should be able to tell which units are performing. However, be sure to review this on a placement level because different sites cause users to navigate and scan differently. Deduce which are your stars and which are your dogs to make quick, ruthless changes. Go with the winners, and you'll immediately experience a lift in click-throughs for the campaign. Note that if one unit is consistently underperforming, you should objectively review the creative to see if there might be a different issue in play.

3. Don't try to do too much
I think we all get a tad ambitious with what we'd like to communicate to our audience when we're advertising. For once, it is where we get to control what is said about our product, and we decide how it is said. But, realize that our audiences are still truly in control. When they're consuming our ads, they are actually doing other more important (to them, certainly not to us) things.

When producing your ads, distill the message to the most important point and think about a user driving by a billboard at 65 mph. What is their single most important takeaway? Remove everything else (including the darn "click here").

4. Be permanently consistent
In the relatively short life of most campaigns, it can be hard to build off of prior recognition that the brand may have. However, if you maintain a consistent, permanent theme -- not just between ads but also between campaigns -- there's a greater chance that your target will remember you for the long haul.

Consistency builds long-term trust and affinity. Building trust and affinity increases click-through and conversion rates. People want to do business with companies that they feel have been around and will continue to be around to support them. If you're constantly changing what you say and how you say it, customers lose faith. Think of your brand as a politician -- your target audience is voting with its money.

5. Reconsider rich media
If your campaign's success measurement is all about the click-through and conversion, you will want to reconsider integrating rich media into the mix. Rich media is often more about engagement than it is about direct response.

However, if you do opt for rich media on a direct response level, consider bringing content to the ad to reduce the barrier of the click-through.

6. Try static ads
If you find that you're abandoning rich media, you might as well go all the way to static versions. The surprising thing is that you might even find you like them.

In a world where we in the industry are inspired by the latest and greatest technology, bells and whistles, and video, sometimes our target needs a change of pace. Throw static ads into the mix and see what happens. For example, in a recent campaign for a wireless carrier we ran in Q3 this year, static ads running in equal rotation with similar Flash ads had a .07 percent CTR, while the Flash ads received .06 percent.

When everything else is moving, your target just might react better to the simpler things. In many cases, they are looking for the static content on a page when reading an article and may tune out all shiny, flashy objects.

7. Rethink social media and news placements
In my article "Why Low Engagement Can Be Good," I addressed this topic in greater length. However, the basic premise is this: If you're trying to improve your click-through rates, you may not want to be placing your ads within engrossing content.

When users are managing their profiles, interacting with friends, or engaged in a story, they will tune you out. A study from the IDC echoed this by saying, "U.S. online consumers who use social networking services (SNS) such as MySpace and FaceBook are less receptive to SNS ads overall, click less on SNS ads (57 percent) than they do on other forms of web advertising (79 percent), and make fewer purchases as a result."

If you want people to click on your ad and arrive at your campaign's landing page, you may want to select media placements that are more passive, or ones dedicated to helping users navigate to other information related to the on-page topic and, subsequently, your product.

8. Design for the placement
It might be easy to skip this one when you're creating ads separate from a media buy, or when you simply have too many placements to fathom building unique units for each placement. However, designing for the placement can make a big difference. It can be as simple as black on white or white on black, or recognizing the difference between a placement on The New York Times website versus Heavy.com. Clearly these destinations have different audiences. Thus, they are also vastly different in terms of what will pop off the page and be noticed by readers.

In the case of a broad media plan, rather than trying to appeal to every placement and risk diluting the creative, consider producing unique creatives for some of the bigger, more arresting placements. Rotate those creatives to see if it makes any difference.

9. Add behavioral targeting and retargeting
We have had mixed levels of success with these media options. However, at least we've seen pretty consistently higher click-through rates for behavioral targeting. Retargeting has been solid for us in terms of boosting CTR, and we've seen outstanding conversion rates. Here are some examples from a recent real-life campaign that epitomize our typical results:

As you can see, user retargeting had more than a 10-fold increase in conversion rate, and the click-through rates were better than a run-of-network "placebo."

10. Add other tactics and mix
Anyone who is invested in online advertising needs to recognize the synergy between online advertising and other promotional tactics including offline. For example, it is widely noted that display ads lift search click-through rates. While it isn't widely highlighted in our space, it has been our experience that click-throughs for online display ads increase while similarly branded offline promotions are running. That means when our client Rubio's radio ads for this month's crispy shrimp burritos are running, our display ads promoting coupons for those same burritos are more likely to get clicked on.

The method here is all about timing and evaluating a media plan as a whole rather than in silos. When all cylinders are firing, you're more likely to see improvement across the board.

So, if you're as impatient as I am and wish to see immediate success with your display ads, relax. Try to content yourself with the knowledge that you have a quick checklist here that should help you either quickly recover or set yourself up for success the next time.

Reid Carr is president of Red Door Interactive.

As Red Door Interactive's President & CEO, Reid is there for clients and employees alike. Having began his career in advertising, Reid appreciates the integrity of the brand, but focuses on the fact that what we do for clients has to make them...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Ann Betts

2009, January 23

Reid, great article!

I have to echo some of the other comments that speak to the fact that click-through-rates overall are declining. Though I always believe it is important to optimize any online ad campaign to increase effectiveness, at some point one needs to take a step back and evaluate where they are placing their time and energy; and what in the end will make the biggest impact on the bottom line. I'm not arguing that clicks are not important, rather that they shouldn't be a main focus to measure campaign success.

I'm also very glad that you mentioned Retargeting in your article (disclaimer - I work for FetchBack, the Retargeting Company)- Retargeting has proven to be a solid online marketing initiative that provides some of the highest ROIs in the industry today; even higher than paid search. The beauty is that though we do measure CTRs, we focus more on other metrics and overall campaign performance and increases in conversion rates as success factors. To learn more, check us out at: www.FetchBack.com.

Thanks again Reid!

Commenter: Aaron Finn

2009, January 21

Thanks for the article. With this economy, display advertising is going to pose a great opportunity for the advertisers that can take advantage of it.

At AdReady, we are opening the banner market to advertisers that couldn't previously participate by eliminating the costs of creative, lowering the minimums for publishers and speeding the implementation and optimimaztion.

Our platform addresses several of your points (#1, 2, 6, 8 & 9) in an automated, self-service way and gets the results you are looking for faster and at a significantly better ROI.

Check out http://www.adready.com.

Commenter: Reid Carr

2009, January 21

Wow. Thanks for all the comments, guys. Some great additions, some controversy (Sandra has my back...).

Joe, I would love to see some examples because I haven't seen the "trust barrier" overcome there, yet. Perhaps that will come with user's familiarity with the application of conducting transactions within the banner.

Perhaps I will follow up with an article about re-targeting; sounds like there is some interest (Bob Lewis gave a great overview in the meantime).

Again, thank you everyone who commented. I am happy to connect and other answer questions, so keep them coming.

Commenter: Khai Huynh

2009, January 21

From a DR standpoint, for the price conscious media planners out there, the eCPC is also an important measure and should not be over-looked. It sometimes makes more sense to get a lower CTR but paying $5.00 CPM @ 0.2% CTR, working out to a $2.50 eCPC as opposed to paying a $30 CPM with the same CTR @ 0.2% but your eCPC is $15.00, so long as you're still getting access to quality traffic which is promoting your brand image. Branding and DR can complement one another and promote those extra clicks/engagement factors that you're missing out on if concentrating purely on the higher priced branding placements only.

Commenter: Sandra Ahn

2009, January 21

Benjamin- I work at Red Door and we don't ever optimize our campaigns on CTR alone and we always look at both click through and view through activity. But if you can get more people though the door by working on your CTRs, even if you're getting the same conversion rate, you have the opportunity to convert more people. Increasing your CTR from a 0.07% to 0.08% with the same conversion rate can increase your conversions by 14%. Obviously that's a rough scenario but I'm sure you get the point.

Commenter: Ari Brandt

2009, January 21

Reid -

Great article. But I have to take issue with regard to your point #5 - "Reconsider rich media." Not all rich media is focused on engagement. There is a rich media company that does not focus on "engagement" but rather focuses on enhancing the performance of display advertising. That company is Linkstorm (www.linkstorm.net) which i happen to be the CEO of. Linkstorm is a performance enhancing advertising technology company that is pioneering a new approach to online marketing, e-commerce and publishing. The company's unique ad enhancement technology significantly improves performance of all online advertising and enhances customer engagement by overlaying cascading menus onto any ad format and quickly connecting customers to the information they want. Clients include national and global advertisers, agencies and publishers such as Cisco, E*Trade, American Express, Wal-Mart, Nissan, IBM, Microsoft, Ogilvy, Razorfish, Grey, Digitas, AOL, Meredith and the New York Times. I recommend anyone looking to drive a greater ROI from their display campaigns to talk to us.



Commenter: Bob Lewis

2009, January 21

Site ReTargeting is when a user visits your website, is cookied, and then served ads later on a Behavioral Network. In my opinion, Site ReTargeting is the most impactful form of Display Advertising, not to say other forms of Display are bad. Site ReTargeted users have shown an interest in you. I also believe runinning retail messages to these people is most impactful.

To take it to the next level, it is possible to have seperate cookies for all your product pages and follow someone with an ad specific to the product they viewed. For example, if I was on your retail site looking at a widget, you could later serve me ads on Behavioral Networks offering me that same widget with your most attractive retail message.

Site ReTargeting is a tactic I highly recommend.

Commenter: Pam McLennan

2009, January 21

www.chocolatedownunder.com.au has just registered for your articles and we believe in the concept of marketing and seminars.

To go to Florida is a big stretch with the economy and wished Australia offered more of these things.

In the meantime we will enjoy your articles.

Commenter: Pam McLennan

2009, January 21

www.organicbabe.com.au is a online retail baby store and I wish there was more help and seminars and ideas like you are offering.

If we were able we would love to meet with experts in Florida but for the time being will continue to follow your articles.

More hits is our dream.

Commenter: Dave Youngblood

2009, January 21

Retargeting is new to me too. I am assuming this is serving the same or simlar display to a user who had already indirectly seen the display.

Commenter: scott broomfield

2009, January 21

Reid -

A great set of "Rules of Thumbs." Two quick items: 1) your rich media is spot on, as we see rich media delivering a more cogent message faster, and 2) I would put an exclamation point next to your first item - Test, test, test. We often spend many hours, days and weeks designing the program, only to have it fail or not meet expectations. I suggest fast failure - Test, measure, learn, iterate - test, measure, learn, iterate. It helps speed up the process and it really helps with lowering what i call "lock in." Lock in happens when a group of people have spent weeks doing something and they become vested in their pet project and not in reaching the overall goal.

Scott - CEO of Veeple.

Commenter: Marissa Yi

2009, January 21

I'm new to this, can you explain more about user retargeting? How is this done?

Commenter: Dean Donaldson

2009, January 21

Enjoyed this article with some very interesting points, but still feel that a concept in point 3 nailed it on the head - "a user driving by a billboard at 65 mph" - why would you measure such display activity by clicks/interactivity at all?!

The only way I could measure a TV advert by such as response, for example, is if the ad specifically said "call this number now"... everything else in display in ALL media is measured on after effect of activity elsewhere – generally after some time. Online display needs to wake up to this too.

All data research is pointing to consumers clicking less / the wrong audience / not converting / etc, etc. post impression v post-click activity - which is the greater volume and/or more important?

If it is brand campaign - It is visually alerting people to a brand concept / re-enforcing messages... clicks are not a relevant in measurability of intent - what percentage of people click immediate, vs remember something then search in their own time - clicks are relevant in search, not display here. The only thing we can measure is reach / frequency of exposure and then any interaction of the (>10% users) on page that re-enforces that engagement in situation.

Then we must look at what happens next - click (0.x%) or search (>20%) or buzz metrics or tear-and-share activity by widget integration.

If it is a DR campaign, you are more likely to fill-in a data-capture component in a banner then click thru to a site anyway (8x).

The whole system of driving greater clicks is floored and based historically in an agency mindset of justification that pre-dates research into modern online consumer behaviour.

Commenter: Joe Wright

2009, January 21

Bring the secured action into the banner. A concept that no one seems to get. You will improve results significantly.

Commenter: Remmert Oosterling

2009, January 21

Good article Reid, Thanks.

There are so many ways to optimize the performance of your campaign. Always good to consider suggestions like these.

Anyone would like to roll out CPO, 100% performance based (internationally), please contact us at Yieldivision.com and we optimize your performance while you pay us per Lead/Sale