Myth: Click-throughs and shares are the best proof of ad effectiveness

April 2nd, 2014 by Brandi

share-st-1aMany long-held assumptions about Web-based and social media-driven advertising go under the microscope in “What You Think You Know the Web Is Wrong,” an article at Time.com by Tony Haile. Haile is the CEO of Chartbeat, a real-time Web analytics solution provider. The article raises fascinating questions about the effectiveness of online advertising, with lessons for how tech B2B marketers can use better design and better content to reach their audience. This post is the first of two based on Haile’s research.

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At McBru, we pay a lot of attention to the latest trends and research in digital advertising – how they impact customer behavior and customer awareness and affinity towards brands.

In his article on Time.com, Haile talks about some of the myths of online advertising and our understanding of it.  The article discusses the “Attention Web” – a new way of focusing advertising based on a user’s attraction to valuable content and design – and how there are powerful new methods of capturing data that can give media sites and advertisers a second-by-second, pixel-by-pixel view of user behavior.

First though, we need to understand some of the myths of traditional Web advertising analytics. Turns out that these “measurement” methods, which purport to peak into customer behavior on the Web and gauge the success of marketing campaigns, simply aren’t accurate.

Myth 1:  Conventional knowledge suggests that publishers have been chasing page views, the metric that counts the number of times people load a web page. The more page views a site gets, the more people are reading its contents, and the more successful the site is as part of a larger marketing campaign.

Maybe not…Chartbeat looked at deep user behavior of 2 billion visits across the Web over the course of a month and found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. There is a concept of click fraud but the real issue is that customers aren’t reading what the metrics says they are.  It goes without saying that the most valuable audience is the one that reads our content, and finds it compelling enough to come back for more.

Myth 2: The more we share, the more we read.  As page views have begun to fail as a metric, brands have embraced social shares such as Facebook likes or Twitter retweets as the new measurement and currency of success. Social sharing is public and suggests that someone has not only read the content but is actively recommending it to other people.  Obviously caring about social sharing makes sense and companies are likely to get more traffic if readers share their content as opposed to doing nothing at all: the more Facebook “likes” a story gets, the more people it reaches within Facebook and the greater the overall traffic. The same is true of Twitter, though Twitter drives less traffic to most sites.

The rub is that people who share content are a small fraction of the people who visit that content. Chartbeat tracked specific content with social activity and there was only one tweet and eight Facebook likes for every 100 visitors.

Also, conventional wisdom would hold that the more a piece of content is shared or liked, the more likely it is to be read or otherwise consumed. However, according to Haile, “We looked at 10,000 socially-shared articles and found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.”

In other words, using shares as a measure of marketing success ignores the behaviors of a huge portion of your audience. And in general, relying on click-throughs and social sharing as a measure of marketing success can often lead us to jump to conclusions that the data does not support.

Watch this space for Part 2 of this series on the myths of online advertising.

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