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Study: Clicks Less Effective Than Views

Users who click on an online ad are probably less valuable than users who converted after just seeing it -- according to a new study from CMGI's ad network Engage.

In its newest Online Advertising Report, Andover, Mass.-based Engage reports that conversions -- that is, sales, registrations or requests for information -- occur more often from simply seeing an ad than clicking on it.

Of all advertising-influenced conversions, about 25 percent came through clicks, while 36 percent came after seeing an ad. Furthermore, Engage said that 39 percent of the ad-influenced conversions were actually made by users who converted previously -- whether by clicking or converting post-impression.

Therefore, marketers who measure only the first post-click conversion miss about 75 percent of their campaign's performance, according to the study. Indeed, click-throughs produced about 30 percent fewer conversions than impressions.

Additionally, the report suggests that users driven to a marketer's Web site by seeing an ad dig deeper into its content, than do surfers who arrive at the site by clicking an ad.

For instance, users who clicked on an ad make up just under half of the advertising-influenced traffic to a marketer's Web site. However, they're 37 percent less likely to seal the deal, whether it's an e-commerce transaction or newsletter registration.

"Post-impressions" are also more likely to visit a marketer's site more than once. Engage said it found a 62.5 percent greater return rate for users that received an impression and visited a site, than for surfers who only clicked through.

Engage also found that there's an immediate impact to an impression, even if a user does not click. Thirty-eight percent of all post-impression conversions occur within 30 minutes of the original impression, while 52 percent of conversions occur within 24 hours. Ninety-six percent of conversions occur within a month.

According to the study's authors -- Maura Lewis, director of Engage's strategic and analytic services, and Rob Lawson, research and media development director at Engage London -- a rapid drop-off in conversion after an impression suggests that "simply seeing an ad is a strong influence on user conversion."

"Users are taking a branding message from the creative, not acting impulsively on it (clicking), but are finding their way to the advertiser's site and converting," Lewis and Lawson wrote. "This suggests that post-impression conversions are a crucial part of online marketing performance, and must be measured if the interactive medium is to be understood."

Despite lending ammunition to growing industry-wide dissatisfaction with click-through metrics, Lewis and Lawson did make a study of the most-clicked ad sizes. Surprisingly, non-traditional advertising sizes drove much stronger performance than more typical units.

Of the generally accepted Internet Advertising Bureau ad sizes, the 250-by-250 pixel "large rectangle" unit has the highest click-through rate, followed closely by the 160-by-600 "wide skyscraper." Both sizes have click-throughs of around 1.4 percent.

The aging banner ad, however, is turning in only a rate of 0.28 percent -- a figure that Engage notes has been decreasing steadily during the past several months. However, the banner ad appears on Web sites nearly 600 times more than the so-called "large rectangle" -- suggesting advertisers in general aren't using the most effective ad unit if they want to generate clicks.

That's music to the ears of groups like the IAB and many leading Web publishers, who are seeking to justify their bigger banner ad sizes. In February, the IAB sanctioned new, larger ad units in the hopes that they would be more attention-getting, and easier to produce, than the standard banner.