There has been a spate of discussion lately about the usefulness of the simple click. To many, the click is an outdated form of measurement. Indeed, too many want to stop measuring clicks altogether. These people, while well-intentioned, are wrong. The click is as vital as ever. It should be said: The click is the most important digital measurement of all.
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It is easy to burn down a barn, but it is incredibly hard to build one. Just ask any carpenter. Replacing the click as the primary metric is a bad idea. Clicks dominate our lives because they are simple to explain and easy to track. Clicks can be optimized on the fly, allowing for real-time insight. Most importantly, they can be used to compare different publishers or placements in an easily understood manner. No single metric serves as a viable alternative to the click.
Clicks are the first step on the path to success. Direct-response marketers are not in the business of collecting clicks -- frankly no one is. Instead they use clicks to sell goods and services. Clicks act as straight forward indicators of interest. Just like people who walk into a store are potential customers, clicks are potential transactions. A click is the first real consumer action toward that ultimate goal. To paraphrase Lao Tzu, the thousand-dollar sale begins with a single click. But do not be deceived: The click is just the very beginning of the transaction chain -- not the end.
Unfortunately, brand advertisers live in a much more complex world. Brands have to content themselves with qualitative matters like awareness, lift, and favorability. However, emotional values are not easily measured. We need a range of tools to understand how our media affects consumer perceptions. But we cannot directly correlate any of those metrics to the placement level. Indeed we must be content to measure those on a campaign-wide basis. Clicks, however, allow us some measurability at the placement level. It is the first real indication of a consumer's attention.
My friends who sell rich media (RM) technology consider interactivity to be superior to the click. Rich media is a great concept: engage the consumer on his terms (time and place). Undoubtedly, such engagement produces intellectual and emotional involvement. However, interactivity is an obtuse metric easily misconstrued -- different RM ads cannot be objectively compared. All RM interactions are not created equal.
One unit's post-expansion action may be as important as another's initial interaction. It depends on the creative concept and ad's design. Clicks, though, are easily compared in any given situation. Regardless of the ad format, we can compare the click response. That is an apples-to-apples comparison. Even the RM's biggest boosters tout that the most engaging ads earn the highest click rates. Marketers rely on the humble click because it is simple. That universality is why we grab on to the click despite the power of rich media ads. The click's simplicity is its genius.
I heartily agree that rich media can produce a powerful effect. But, like a tuxedo, rich media has its time and place. It is not for every occasion. Indeed, if all ads were rich media ads, the tool would lose its power. Simple SWF files can often serve simple messaging better. Certainly as a companion to a pre-roll video, static JPGs are better still. In those cases, the banner should not distract from the video messaging.
By the same token, basic messaging like "sale ends Saturday" can be as or more valuable than complex communications. There are a number of important placements that do not accept rich media. Many email clients such as AOL, Gmail, MSN, and Yahoo do not readily accept expandable RM units. Facebook, this country's second largest website, lacks robust RM positions too. Sure, rich media offers a plethora of useful metrics, but they are not a panacea.