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The Dangers of Optimizing Mobile Display Ad Campaigns by Click-Through Rate

Katherine Buchholz Product Marketing Manager, DialogTech

Click-through rate (CTR) remains the most common metric being used today for measuring digital advertising. However as mobile advertising continues to grow, marketers need to beware that they aren’t optimizing campaigns for the wrong metric.

In a recent study, xAd analyzed 80 mobile campaigns in order to determine what the best measures of mobile campaign performance are. The results were powerful, reminding us that mobile is not the same platform as desktop and, as a result, we also need to treat the goals we set and metrics we analyze for mobile ad campaigns differently.

The Findings: CTR vs. SAR vs. SVL

According to comScore 78% of local mobile searches result in offline purchases, so why are we not analyzing the metrics, such as Secondary Action Rate (SAR), that drive these offline purchases? xAd’s study found that, while it can still be used as an initial gauge of brand awareness, CTR in mobile display ads tends to be unrelated and even negatively correlated to SAR. SAR represents high-engagement, secondary actions taken after a click, such as calls, directions, and store visits.

Key insights include:

  • When CTRs were higher, SAR tended to be lower. In fact, when the campaigns were optimized for CTR by running them on sites and mobile apps that generated the most clicks, they saw a significant decrease in SAR. Meaning that as clicks on mobile ads went up, the important secondary actions like call conversions went down.
  • Lower CTRs were associated with the highest in-store visitation rates. An ad that doesn’t lead to a click but raises awareness for your brand may be enough to drive SVL, or Store Visitation Lift.
  • Optimizing campaigns for SAR delivered more extreme results. Actions such as calls, directions, and clicking through for more information can increase by over 200% while having a negative impact on CTR performance at the same time (a decrease of about 25%).

The study also raised the question of how accurate CTR metrics are for mobile, based on the nature of how users interact with their devices. Smaller touchscreens are just that: smaller. Mobile devices may include up to 40% accidental clicks, inflating CTR and demonstrating why we should be careful when looking at only CTRs for mobile campaigns.

The following charts show three campaigns from the study and exemplifies why CTR should not be used as a sole indicator of campaign success. Campaigns 2 and 3, while having lower CTRs, performed very strongly in secondary action measures and driving a lift in store visitation (SVL).

brand campaign metrics

Steps to Mobile Campaign Success

Key to driving success in mobile campaigns is marketers’ recognition that it is a distinctly different platform and, as such, should have different goals and indicators of successful performance. Before beginning a new campaign, it helps to break it down into a few steps:

  1. Understand purchase type and its value and complexity to the consumer.
  2. Define the goals for the campaign.
  3. Outline key performance indicators.
  4. Optimize campaigns for the defined metrics.

Every campaign is different and should be treated as such. What defines success needs to be constantly modified and evaluated for optimal results.

Optimize for Impact: The Call Is the New Click

With 61% of sales managers who consider inbound phone calls to be excellent leads (more than any other type) and marketers who are spending $68 billion annually on ads to generate those sought-after calls (BIA/Kelsey), it’s more pressing than ever to invest in tools to help optimize these conversations. This study reinforces that people engage with mobile differently, and call tracking technology can help us understand where they are coming from in order to fully optimize our marketing ROI for what’s really working.

Interested in learning more about best practices for generating, tracking, and managing inbound calls? Download our eBook, Marketing to Smartphone Users: New Mobile Strategies for Driving Sales Calls.