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Misleading Metrics: What Your CTR Isn’t Telling You

Published on Mar 18, 2024

Misleading Metrics: What Your CTR Isn’t Telling You
Sonya Matejko
Sonya Matejko studioID

If you’ve been in the marketing game for a while, you might be convinced that click-through rate (CTR) for things like ad and email campaigns is the gold standard when it comes to assessing and demonstrating success. But in reality, CTR can be gold-plated, and its shine will rub off eventually

As a demand-gen marketer, it’s easy to lean solely on a high CTR to prove that your ads are working, but CTR is only part of the story — a minor character if you will. And should you focus only on CTR without assessing all the other factors at play, you’ll be doing your marketing strategy a major disservice.

Let’s take a look at why your high CTR might be misleading and what marketing metrics to add to your story to re-strategize and make your ads worth the spend. 

Why Your CTR is Leading You Astray

Today, the average CTR for Google search ads is 3.17% and 0.46% for Google display ads across most industries. You might be giddy — and ready to throw more dollars a campaign’s way — if you hit or exceed these numbers. But before you celebrate, take a step back.

Because CTR is calculated by the number of clicks received divided by the number of times your ad is shown, it doesn’t tell you:

  • Reach: the total number of users who saw your ad

  • Conversion: whether the user who clicked actually completed the action you wanted

  • Intention: why the user clicked, limiting insight into whether you’re attracting qualified buyers

  • Retention: how long users stay on the page after clicking your ad

Plus, accidents happen. As do accidental clicks — especially if an ad is placed too close to other clickable elements or pops up quickly. CTR doesn’t take this into account. 

Planet of the Bots: What is CTR Manipulation and Click Fraud?

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the not-so-accidental, more nefarious activity that happens around CTR — known as CTR manipulation and click fraud.

According to Cloudflare, “Click fraud is when a person or a bot pretends to be a legitimate visitor on a webpage and clicks on an ad, a button, or some other type of hyperlink. The goal of click fraud is to trick a platform or service into thinking real users are interacting with a webpage, ad, or app.”

The amount of active bots across the Internet has surged in recent years.

In fact, according to the latest statistics, bad bots now account for a staggering 73% of all Internet traffic — an alarming figure that is only projected to rise with the speedy adoption of AI.

The sheer volume of bots and increased sophistication makes them harder to control for, and more often than not, their activity winds up artificially inflating your CTR.

Not to mention, media & advertising platforms themselves have a bad history of artificially inflating key engagement metrics like impressions and CTR to pad their own wallets and keep you spending. 

So, while high CTR can initially sound exciting, presenting or making decisions based only on those results is going to corner you into making non-strategic decisions, and cost you critical budget as a result. On the flip side, if you have a low CTR, you might be unnecessarily disappointed.

A lower CTR from all qualified leads is worth far more than a high CTR full of unqualified leads. 

🔎 Related Reading: Cracking the Code: Solving the Mystery of Low Conversion Rates

What the Industry Says About CTR

Some brave members of the industry have taken a firm stand against CTR. Some even shared their experiences in a (mock) recovery group:

This video is part of the #clickhead campaign from IAB UK, which hosts National Anti-Click Through Rate Day annually. Their clever campaign nudges marketers everywhere to look beyond CTR. 

So, where do you look?

5 Key Marketing Metrics in 2024 Beyond CTR

Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)

ROAS measures how much money you make from each dollar you spend on advertising. (Hubspot also has a handy ROAS calculator you can use.) 

When you track ROAS, you can:

  • Measure the effectiveness of a specific ad campaign by highlighting whether you netted a positive return.

  • Determine how you spend your advertising budget based on how the previous ad spends and campaigns panned out.

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

CLV estimates the total revenue your business can anticipate generating from a single customer throughout their entire relationship with your brand. 

When you track CLV, you can:

  • Increase revenue by targeting customers who are more likely to generate revenue with repeat purchases and upselling opportunities.

  • Reduce customer acquisition costs by focusing on retaining quality customers. 

Cost Per Lead (CPL)

CPL measures how much money you spend, on average, to collect a lead, or prospect, from your marketing campaign. This differs slightly from cost-per-acquisition (more on that next.) 

When you track CPL, you can:

  • Test ad formats, visuals and copy to see what generates more quality leads.

  • Optimize your budget by working to reduce CPL and then generate more leads for less. 

Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)

CPA is how much money you spend, on average, to acquire a new customer or get a sale. While CTR tells you when someone arrives at your content, CPA tells you if they complete a purchase. 

When you track CPA, you can: 

  • Understand how much each new customer costs your business. 

  • Bring down customer acquisition costs by optimizing campaigns to target only those most likely convert. 

Customer Retention

Customer retention shows how many customers stick with a business over time. It’s also sometimes called “churn rate”; the lower it is, the better for your business. 

When you track customer retention, you can:

  • Save money by focusing on retaining present customers vs. acquiring new ones (which generally costs more).

  • Generate more revenue by focusing on upselling and cross-selling while increasing your chance of gaining referrals. 

Other standout marketing performance metrics include ROI, lead quality, and conversion rate by channel — each valuable insight that will help you make savvier buying decisions. 

📈 Related Reading: Content Marketing Measurement, Demystified: How to Demonstrate ROI from Brand to Demand

Should You Ignore CTR Completely?

CTR is just one character, but it’s still integral to the story. (Think of Lion King without Zazu or Schitt’s Creek without Ronnie. They might not be the hero, but you need them to push the narrative along.) 

CTR can provide helpful insights when paired with other key marketing performance metrics. Plus, using those additional metrics can also help you improve your CTR. 

For example, when you have the added context of other metrics, you can determine if:

  • ads, content, or landing pages are misleading, leading to many clicks but quick exits and low conversations. 

  • the audience is too broad and isn’t interested in the offer or content, leading to low clicks and conversions.  

  • campaigns generate leads, but few of the leads convert, meaning you might be attracting low-quality leads only. 

  • if the return from conversions outweighs the money and time spent on the campaign.

All alone, CTR can’t give you the above. You need the other pieces to piece together that best-selling story.