The belief that people who click display adverts are the ones who convert is a popular one but in fact the complete opposite is true – clickers are actually less likely to convert.

The notion that clicking and converting must be related is highly intuitive which is probably why the theory’s proved incredibly persistent.

It stems from a combination of two things: a lack of trust in post-view data and the assumption there must be some kind of intent behind a click.

The first assumption has a reasonable basis in fact: when you look at the average viewability for the industry, you can’t blame advertisers for looking at post-view conversions with suspicion.

The second is where the problem arises – particularly in the world of fraud and accidental clicks: is a click actually a signal of intent? 

Identifying the ‘high probability' clickers

To answer this question, we analysed behavioural data to build a lookalike model to work out if people who look like clickers, do actually click more than usual.

Initially, this held true – targeting high probability clickers generated a high number of clicks.

However, KPIs tend to be related to conversions, rather than clicks, so we ran the model against converters.

Knowing that the model accurately predicted clickers, we expected that (based on the traditional assumption that clicks and conversions are correlated) high probability clickers would also be more likely to convert. 

Do clickers convert?

We actually found that high probability clickers were 20% less likely to convert than average.

In fact, you could improve campaign performance by excluding high probability clickers

So why is this and what does it mean? There are two main reasons:

1. Click Fraud

It’s not unusual to see clicks occurring on impressions that were never seen. This is something that requires action from both publishers and agencies to eradicate.

Click fraud is easy to spot, by distinguishing between viewed and non-viewed impressions. If you are seeing lots of clicks on a particular domain/publisher coming from non-viewed impressions, it’s almost certainly click fraud.

Think about blocking that domain from your campaigns or raise the issue with the publisher/SSP responsible, who should be able to help.

A good brand safety solution should be able to stop you from delivering against suspicious users or domains.

2. The Accidental Click

Typically seen on mobile, tablet or gaming sites, this is a real click, but made with no intent behind it.

Though not fraudulent, they are still fairly easy to spot. The most straightforward indicator is an unusually high click-through rate (CTR) coupled with very low conversion rates.

The simplest fix for this is to monitor CTRs by site, excluding those with very high CTRs and no conversions. This will have the effect of reducing your average CTR, but should also reduce your CPA.

You will see fewer visitors to your site but more actual sales.

What does this mean for you?

Well, every time you pay for a fraudulent or accidental click, you’re wasting money. Even if you’re not paying on a CPC basis, budget delivered on inventory with high levels of fraud or accidental clicking is wasted.

These users are not going to convert. They’re never going to buy your products. Even if they actually visit your site, it’s by mistake.

But there are users out there who are real and are interested in your products: those are the ones you should be directing budget at. But what can you do about it?

There are simple steps that you can take to reduce the occurrence of these. But they’re unlikely to happen until advertisers stop rewarding their agencies for clicks and click-based performance.

Even those agencies with the best of intentions are unlikely to scrutinise their clicks too closely when they’re faced with a low CPC goal for a campaign.

If you want to reduce the numbers of fraudulent or accidental clicks in your campaigns, you’ll have to work with your agency to make that happen.

Help incentivise them to seek out and cut out non-viewed or accidental clicks. Don’t penalise them when this causes your CPC to increase.

Though it may look more expensive, more of the traffic to your site is now real, reliable and ready to convert.

So what does lead to conversions?

You may now be asking yourself: if the clicks on my display advertising aren’t creating conversions, then where is the value?

The way display works is through its ability to generate ‘view-through’ conversions. These are conversions created on other channels (such as search) that happen because a user has seen multiple display ads.

You can attribute display adverts to view-through conversions because programmatic allows you to track the many touchpoints display has along the customer path to purchase.

This provides advertisers the chance to see the real effect it has on CPA and conversion rate.

Econsultancy has just launched a new conference, Creative Programmatic, which takes place in London on March 2.

Attendees will discover how brands and agencies can benefit from delivering a personalised and relevant creative programmatic experience at scale.

Rachael Morris

Published 7 January, 2016 by Rachael Morris

Rachael Morris is Head of Optimisation Strategy at Infectious Media. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

The lead should probably be, "The belief that people who click display adverts [most] are the ones who convert [most] is a popular one but in fact the complete opposite is true – [the heaviest] clickers are actually less likely to convert".

Obviously the majority of people who don't click adverts at all are the least likely to convert, so allowing for them, clickers are more likely to convert.

Some of the heaviest clickers are 2 year-olds btw, because they very quickly work out that you can make borrowed phones do fun stuff by clicking randomly - and they are incredibly persistent.

over 2 years ago


Rachael Morris, Head of Optimisation and Insight at Infectious Media

Hey Pete,

I'd probably agree that that's true - our hypothesis is that many of the non-converting clickers came from fraudulent or accidental clicks of the sort you describe, which are typically marked by very high volumes of clicks from a single user.

We didn't actually focus on the behaviour of low volume clickers in this research, but we did find that a big differentiator was whether or not the ad was in view - when this was the case, we did find a correlation between the click and conversion.

I think the important point in both cases (low volume clickers or in-view clickers) is that these kinds of clicks are unlikely to be very cheap clicks, which tend to come from sites with very high volumes of accidental or fraudulent clicks (resulting in poorer performance overall).

over 2 years ago


eyal katz, marketing at adngin

Obviously you should be tracking your conversions to see to what extent your clicks are in fact converting. Then, there are several explanations to why they may or may not be converting.

However, the premise behind the whole thing is the Psychological (and sales) phenomena known as "foot in the door technique." If you haven't guessed it already then according to social psychologists, people are more likely to perform an action you would like them to perform if they've already done so in the past. Hence, if they click they are more likely to convert. You can read more about how this technique is utilized in advertising here:

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Not quite, "The foot in the door technique (Freedman & Fraser, 1966) assumes agreeing to a small request increases the likelihood of agreeing to a second, larger request. So, initially you make a small request and once the person agrees to this they find it more difficult to refuse a bigger one."

It's also true that "people are more likely to perform an action you would like them to perform if they've already done so in the past". This is a different phenomenon that's also useful in marketing - that people behave fairly consistently. For example if you compare two people, one of whom has regularly clicked links in emails in the past, and another who has never clicked links in emails, the former is probably more likely to click in future too.

over 2 years ago


eyal katz, marketing at adngin

Wouldn't that be what I detailed? A small ask can be "click just one ad" and then after they just performed the small ask of one ad click, according to the foot in the door technique, they are more likely to respond positively to "Well, would you also mind filling this form?"

over 2 years ago

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