Display ad purveyors have desperately been trying to climb out from under the thumb of click-through rates, and a new study from comScore shows that they better do so quickly. The number of people who have clicked on display ads has dropped 50% in the last year. Even worse, only 8% of people online accounted for 85% of the display ad clicks.

The study, dubbed “Natural Born Clickers,” found that only 16% of the Internet is clicking on display ads. That’s down from 32% last year.

But it’s not all dire. Andrew Lipsman, director of marketing
communications for Comscore, says:

“We’ve been beating this drum for years now on the over-reliance on the
click as a measurement of ROI. If you’re evaluating your ROI on
clicks alone, you could really be throwing off your calculations.”

Brand advertisers online have been trying for years to get away from a reliance on clicks to prove effectiveness in display. And these number do a lot to prove that click-throughs aren’t working as a metric. 

Regardless of clicks, Comscore found that display advertising still helps brand lift online — more clicks on a brand’s website, more searches on brand content. And combined with search advertising, consumers were twice as likely to make a purchase on a company’s website.

According to ChoiceStream research, display ads can generate a 60% lift in click-through rates on search results. Cheryl Kelland, SVP of advertising for ChoiceStream, tells BizReport: “A
consumer sees an ad or a recommendation and later on they conduct a
search and then they go through to make a purchase. Display ads, in
particular, have strong impact on search behaviors and also in going to
a store to make a purchase.”

And according to John Lowell, Starcom USA SVP and director of research and analytics: “A click means nothing, earns no revenue and creates no brand equity. Your online advertising has some goal —
and it’s certainly not to generate clicks.”

The Comscore study also found that as Internet users become more savvy, they click on links less. Dividing participants into heavy clickers, moderate clickers, light clickers and non-clickers, Comscore found that from 2007 to 2009, heavy clickers went from 6% of all Internet
users to 4%; moderate from 10% to 4% and light clickers went from 16 to 8%. Non-clickers as a group grew from 68 to 84% percent of the
entire Internet population.

Advertisers, publishers and sales team are slowly being won over to the idea that click-through rates are not a viable measurement for brand building online. But the question remains as to what will replace the click.

John Lowell, Starcom USA senior VP-director of research and analytics, tells AdAge:

“The problem is, what’s the alterative? Clicks are easy to measure, so
it’s a good default. It does put the onus on ‘What are we going to do
instead?’ like looking directly at sales. We look at clicks in a world
of isolation. Consumers aren’t only exposed to online ads. Digital has
only been measured in the past on its own; increasingly you need to
look at everything they are exposed to.”