10 ways to boost falling click-through rates

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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?



Ann Betts
Ann Betts January 23, 2009 at 12:55 PM

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:

Thanks again Reid!

Aaron Finn
Aaron Finn January 21, 2009 at 7:31 PM

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.

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Reid Carr
Reid Carr January 21, 2009 at 7:31 PM

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.

Khai Huynh
Khai Huynh January 21, 2009 at 6:02 PM

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.

Sandra Ahn
Sandra Ahn January 21, 2009 at 4:54 PM

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.

Ari Brandt
Ari Brandt January 21, 2009 at 4:16 PM

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 ( 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.



Bob Lewis
Bob Lewis January 21, 2009 at 3:38 PM

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.

Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan January 21, 2009 at 3:11 PM 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.

Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan January 21, 2009 at 3:09 PM 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.

Dave Youngblood
Dave Youngblood January 21, 2009 at 2:55 PM

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.

scott broomfield
scott broomfield January 21, 2009 at 1:18 PM

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.

Marissa Yi
Marissa Yi January 21, 2009 at 9:20 AM

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

Dean Donaldson
Dean Donaldson January 21, 2009 at 9:16 AM

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.

Benjamin Theriault
Benjamin Theriault January 21, 2009 at 8:59 AM

I appreciate your comments, however in the world of digital advertising CTR is an outdated means of measurement. Display advertising, especially branded advertising, has a huge impact on building brand awareness, purchase intent, and message retention. I'd argue none of these are adequately measured by simply looking at the CTR of a creative. Moreover, ComScore did a study a while back stating that 1/3 of web surfers click on the majority of ads meaning that 2/3 of the audience isn't being measured accurately IF all you're taking into account is CTR.

Joe Wright
Joe Wright January 21, 2009 at 8:27 AM

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

Remmert Oosterling
Remmert Oosterling January 21, 2009 at 8:04 AM

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 and we optimize your performance while you pay us per Lead/Sale