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Marketing ROI

Do Click-Through Rates Still Matter?

5 Minute Read

A click is harder to come by now than ever before. Research from DMA found that overall email click-through rates declined by 1.6 percent in 2016, while ad blocking and widespread consumer aversion have continued to sink the value of display advertising.

This decline is causing waves of panic throughout the marketing community for two reasons: While recent trends are throwing a long-valued performance metric into turmoil, they’re also creating a more fundamental fear that user behaviors are changing in ways marketers aren’t prepared to accommodate.

At the same time, strong click numbers don’t necessarily produce a calming effect among this worried crowd. Many marketers know that the threat of spam clicks coming from bots can easily distort their performance. And while clicks remain among the most commonly used marketing performance metrics, it’s only one of many different data points used to evaluate success, and it doesn’t necessarily correlate to high conversion rates or other high-value user actions.

These various problems can be distilled into a simple question: What’s the value of a single user’s click? Over the past year, that value has seemed to continue to decline. But by identifying some of the causes for this behavioral change, it’s possible to see some strategies to help marketers adapt to a modern digital audience.

Google’s SERP Snippets

When it comes to clicks through Google search, there’s a clear, significant cause for a decline in clicks for many users: the incorporation of SERP snippets. These snippets are a type of structured data Google uses to label and organize information on certain websites. When Google can strongly correlate a query to the content of a snippet found on a relevant search results page, it can break out that information for display on the search results page, saving the user the trouble of clicking through links to find that information.

SERP example

These snippets are user-friendly and improve the experience on Google, but they come at a price for other high-ranking pages. Typically, in search results without snippet content, 26 percent of users click on the top natural search result. But according to a study from Ahrefs, the presence of a snippet at the top of the page drops that top-ranking page’s click-through rate to below 20 percent. Meanwhile, the appearance of snippets in those searches means that 29.8 percent of all searches fail to lead to a single click, up from 25.8 percent when no snippet content is displayed.

That four percent gap is critical for marketers to consider when creating content and planning SEO strategy. Since snippets aren’t going anywhere, the best strategy at your disposal is to work on incorporating structured data into your own content, giving you a shot at being the snippet text featured at the top of search results. There’s plenty of incentive to do so: Snippets receive 8.6 percent of all search result clicks, per Ahrefs.

More Mobile = Fewer Clicks

Not only are mobile users are far less likely to click on advertisements, but according to data from Moz, more than 57 percent of all Google searches taking place on mobile are conducted without a single click taking place, a figure that far exceeds desktop performance.

A number of factors could be at play in this behavioral trend, but it’s worth noting that mobile’s user experience is not as click-centric as the traditional desktop experience. Mobile is more accommodating to interactivity and engaging experiences, which means content is consumed differently. A user may spend ten minutes scrolling through their Twitter feed without clicking on a single item. They may watch three videos that autoplayed via Facebook. Between mobile apps and other media-rich content, mobile users simply aren’t clicking on ads or other types of content as much as they would on the desktop. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t engaging with content: They’re just using different methods for taking action. A click is only one way they might engage among many others that now have to be considered by marketers.

More Mobile Equals Fewer Clicks

Image attribution:

Leaving the Banner Behind

It’s a well-known fact that consumers have an aversion to banners and advertising in general, and this has hurt the performance of display ad content. Meanwhile, advertisers have found that instead of trying to save banner ads, their resources are better spent creating new types of advertising that enjoy higher engagement and click-through rates.

At the same time, improved analytics technologies have enhanced tracking capabilities and better marketing performance metrics. Forget clicks and page views: Marketers can now view heat maps and analyze hover rates, both of which reflect user behavior even when those users don’t take an explicit action. These analytics bring a dimension of understanding to user engagement that clicks never could. Just as the banner ad is being replaced by native display ads and other, more dynamic forms of advertising, the click has become something of a prehistoric digital marketing relic. The amount of information it offers can never stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the next-level insights offered by today’s leading analytics solutions.

That’s not to say clicks should be entirely ignored. When combined with heat maps and other analytics data, they can provide additional context that makes this information easier to understand and translate into action. But, on their own, clicks can’t tell you whether your content is succeeding or failing. Your click rates may be falling, but it’s not necessarily a failure of your marketing strategy. You’ll have to dig deeper if you want to know the truth.

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Featured image attribution: Benjamin Thompson

Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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