Research suggests CTRs are useless at best, harmful at worst

Click-through rates (CTRs) have been a staple in the marketer’s toolkit for decades, dating all the way back to AT&T’s first banner ad on Wired’s online magazine. They offer a seemingly straightforward way to gauge the effectiveness of online advertising campaigns: the ratio of users who click on an ad to the number of total users who view the ad.  

However, research suggests that relying solely on CTRs can mislead and harm overall marketing effectiveness. This is an evidence-based look at click-through — why this metric holds businesses back and what you should be looking at instead. 

Key takeaways: 

  1. Click-through rates (CTRs) often mislead marketers by failing to capture the true impact of ads on brand awareness and long-term sales. 
  2. Embracing a balanced marketing strategy that includes both short-term and long-term metrics is crucial for sustained brand growth. 
  3.’s omnichannel approach and validation through real household transactions provide a more accurate measure of ad effectiveness. 

Understanding the Limitations of CTRs 

Click-through rates measure immediate engagement, capturing the percentage of users who click on an ad. While this metric might seem to provide clear insights into user interest and ad performance, it fails to account for the broader impact of advertising on brand perception and sales. 

Back in 2012, Nielsen conducted a study that shocked marketers around the world by revealing a significant disconnect between CTRs and offline return on investment (ROI). The study found little correlation between the number of clicks an ad received and the actual sales it generated. In other words, CTRs were found to be useless, and even led to slightly negative ROI for campaigns that optimized around them. 

This disconnect highlights a critical limitation of CTRs: They do not capture the influence of ads on brand awareness, consideration, and long-term customer behavior. 

Despite that research conducted over a decade ago, many marketers continue to rely heavily on CTRs. Additional research since Nielsen’s findings has further validated the limited utility of CTRs in truly measuring ad effectiveness. Studies consistently show that CTRs provide an incomplete picture, often leading to misguided strategies that prioritize short-term clicks over long-term brand growth. 

Alternative Metrics for Comprehensive Ad Measurement 

To accurately measure the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, marketers should look beyond CTRs and consider a range of alternative metrics that provide a more holistic view of ad performance. 

Brand Awareness and Consideration 

One of the most critical metrics for long-term brand health is brand awareness. According to the 2021 Nielsen Brand Resonance Report, a one-point increase in brand awareness can drive a 1% increase in sales. This statistic highlights the direct correlation between upper-funnel marketing efforts and sales growth, underscoring the importance of investing in activities that boost brand awareness and consideration. 

Brand consideration, which measures the likelihood that consumers will consider a brand when making a purchase decision, is another vital metric. Together, these metrics provide a more comprehensive understanding of how advertising influences consumer behavior over time. 

Channel Effectiveness 

Different marketing channels serve different purposes, and their effectiveness can vary significantly. For instance: 

  • Television (or connected TV): Often highly effective in driving long-term brand awareness but varies in effectiveness for short-term sales. 
  • Online Video: Typically more effective for upper-funnel efforts like brand awareness. 
  • Social Media: More effective in driving lower-funnel, immediate sales efforts. 
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Highly effective for driving immediate sales but less so for long-term brand building. 
  • Display Ads: Can be effective for both brand awareness and short-term sales, depending on execution and context. 

The Power of a Balanced Marketing Strategy 

Emphasizing Both Long-Term and Short-Term Impacts 

A balanced marketing strategy that includes both brand-building and conversion marketing is essential. Over-reliance on short-term tactics undermines long-term brand growth, as the Harvard Business Review found in their 2023 case studies. Implementing comprehensive metrics that track both short-term and long-term impacts helps in understanding the holistic effect of marketing efforts. For example, brands like Gap and Adidas have shown success by balancing short-term sales tactics with long-term brand-building efforts. 

Optimizing the Marketing Mix 

Using a combination of short-term and long-term ROI to guide marketing investments ensures brands do not neglect long-term health for short-term gains. This approach can be optimized through marketing mix models that measure and refine the impact across various channels and strategies.™️: Putting Research into Practice 

Why We Embrace Omnichannel Marketing 

We embrace the findings of the latest research by implementing a comprehensive, omnichannel marketing strategy. We combine the strengths of TV, digital ads, CTV, and radio to create cohesive campaigns that influence prospective buyers early in their journey. This approach hits the critical awareness and consideration phases, aligning with Nielsen and HBR data on the effectiveness of combining TV and digital ads. 

We Validate Ads With Real Business Results 

Instead of focusing on click-through rates,™️ validates each ad by measuring its influence on real household transactions. This ensures that the true measure of success is the business result, not just the number of clicks. Our platform also starts influencing prospective buyers far earlier in their customer journey, increasing the chances of long-term engagement and higher ticket values. 

Proven Success in Case Studies 

Our case studies demonstrate how clients can increase ticket values by influencing over a longer period using our platform. For instance, a kitchen remodeling company significantly boosted their sales by leveraging️’s long-term engagement strategy. By focusing on omnichannel marketing and validating ads through real household transactions, the company saw an increase in ticket values and a more substantial customer base.  

Florida Window & Door, another remodeler, increased their ticket values by 16.9% with our strategy.  

The audiences nurtured by™️ provided three times as many sales for this automotive brand as their third-party counterparts.  

Time after time, our platform’s omnichannel, household-based and audience-obsessed strategy outperforms traditional marketing mixes.  

If you want to see it for yourself, book a demo with us.