Rahul Vengalil
Guest Article

The mysterious case of disappearing clicks

Here's to decoding the mystery.

Many many moons ago, as a novice in digital media, I faced a tough question from one of my clients - "why are only a portion of the clicks reaching the intended website?" This was the time when e-commerce, as a phenomenon, was rising; mobile browsing was done with 2G or Wifi only and most of the advertisers didn't know what a mobile site or responsive website was.

The mysterious case of disappearing clicks

Rahul Vengalil

As a rookie, I had gone to my super boss with this particular issue and I was told about two reasons for this drop:

1. Infrastructure: The infrastructure in India wasn't primed enough to always load all the websites at the click of the button. Given this, a certain portion of all the clicks delivered don't reach the intended website.

2. Technology: While using multiple ad tech stacks like ad serving, verification etc., there is a high likelihood for the numbers to not match. The publisher would end up reporting X, the ad server Y, and the Google tags, if used, may report Z.

Keeping these arguments in mind, I went back to the client with a figure of 70 per cent as the acceptable 'Click to Visit' ratio in India. This was in 2012.

Fast forward to 2018; all the mobile operators are offering 4G and LTE service and consumers are watching whole movies on mobile networks; the advertisers have woken up to the mobile revolution and have created responsive websites, mobile sites and in some cases, mobile apps. With respect to technology stacks, many advertisers are choosing to go with a single tech stake rather than having multiple partners. The total number of internet users rose from approximately 100 million in 2012 to close to 450 million in 2017. All these assure advertisers in some way or the other, that the Click to Visit ratio should have, at best, increased to as high as 80 per cent or at worst, held its ground at 70 per cent.

On the contrary, the numbers have plummeted. I know of businesses that accept 30 per cent as the acceptable norm today. For lack of any other way to express this, in my humble opinion, this isn't unacceptable. More about that in a while.

Over the past couple of months, we have been analysing a lot of media campaigns for our clients. To our surprise, we have seen many instances wherein the Click to Visit ratio is in the low single digits. Does this mean that over 90 per cent of consumers who have seen the ad and interacted with it by clicking on it for more details, finally decided not to go ahead? In the AIDA model of business, while media is driving awareness, the interest and desire are the subsequent actions of clicks and websites or app visits. If so, then clicks and the resulting visits to apps or websites, is a key indicator of the campaign performance or the quality of the media inventory used.

The mysterious case of disappearing clicks

Gopa Kumar

Adding his views on this menace, Gopa Kumar, executive vice president, Isobar, says, "We have been very vocal about issues like Viewability, Ad fraud and Transparency and I believe if we do not, as an industry, take effective action in curbing this, we, as digital practitioners, as well as in overall digital ecosystem, will be at a loss. And just being vocal won't help, there needs to be credible efforts done in order to mitigate and curb this.

"While I feel that agencies and publishers need to take immediate steps to push this metric and take this issue head on, I also believe digital media would be far more accountable to its success if marketers marked agencies/publishers not on how much they can drive down the cost of digital, but on the value they can deliver against marketing and business goals. I think there is an immediate need, as an industry, for adoption of 'One Viewability Standard'. There has to be an agreement on third party accreditation, steps taken at war-footing to eliminate fraud, ensuring brand safety and ensuring humans see the ads and not bots."

Before getting into details of how to us click to visit as a metric in your campaign, let us try to understand why clicks are disappearing before the intended action of visiting the website. There are 2-3 different reasons for this:

1. Website is underperforming: The businesses have not understood the power of internet and mobile and do not have a mobile-friendly destination or have used an outdated tech stack which doesn't support the current ecosystem. This is hardly the case today.

2. Wrong implementation of the campaign: The possibility that the media agency or the media team at the business, running the campaign, has used the wrong tags, wrong landing pages etc. which has resulted in campaign visits not being tracked at all. Surprisingly, this happens a lot more than what one might expect. More on campaign checklists in a different article perhaps.

3. Fraudulent inventory: Bots and Click Farms aren't the only fraudsters in the ecosystem. When publishers run ads with wrong placements, wrong ad units, wrong sizes, 'popups' and 'popunders' etc., there are unwanted clicks which never really go anywhere. I am sure everyone who has visited a torrent site would have experienced false ad clicks leading to the opening of a website in a different tab or a popup. In all likelihood, you may have closed the website the moment it tries to open, leading to no sessions. In other words, a human clicked on the ad, but never reached the website.

In the absence of any sort of verification tools that are being used by the business, your click to visit becomes a very important indicator of the quality of your media buys.

There are many ways in which a business can use this to improve efficiency:

1. Create your historical benchmark of click to visit numbers for the last one year and understand the best performing campaigns.

2. Understand the variation in the click to visit for the same publisher. Understand in detail whether it was run on web, mobile web or mobile app.

3. Start tagging the campaigns by device and publisher for better tracking.

4. Create you tolerance limit and be clear upfront with the execution team and the publishers on what you are ready to accept.

5. Be open to increasing the unit price of the inventory to improve the quality of the inventory.

6. Hold your execution team accountable for under-performing platforms.

7. Review the publishers that you are working with on a regular basis and keep increasing the acceptable limit until you reach the best ROI.

8 Bring click to visit into your measurement metrics for all types of campaigns, be it branding, performance or an affiliate campaign.

These steps will help you in not just improving your own campaign but also the overall supply-side system, which today, is "At best murky, at worst fraudulent," as Marc Pritchard once said.

I will leave you with this thought to ponder: The average footfall to conversion in an offline store in approximately 20-25 per cent. Irrespective of the brand that is running the retail mall, all the retail brands keep a tab on the conversion rate. In case this number goes down, then the only possible explanation is that the mall is not able to attract the right users to the store (inventory quality). Click to visit is that metric, a key indicator for - 'am I reaching the right people'; after all, this metric impacts the business.

(The author is the CEO of What Clicks, first digital media audit firm in India)

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