The Monkey & The Cat: When To Ignore CTR

By Kristina McLane | @Hanapin | Account Manager at Hanapin Marketing

Click-thru-rate (CTR) is a basic concept of paid search. It is defined as clicks divided by impressions and is a measure of people that see an ad and actually click through to the website. CTR can give insights to ad copy relevance and it holds some influence over quality score. CTR has its hands in all parts of paid search because of the relationship between the search query and the ad. However, CTR can give us the wrong ideas about what type of people we actually want visiting our website. CTR may measure the relevance between the search query and ad copy, but it does not give insight into the relevance of the ad copy to landing page.


Think Clickbait Ad Copy


If I would have shortened the name of my post to “The Monkey & the Cat,” how many clicks would I have gotten based on pure curiosity? Maybe some people would have clicked because they were actually interested in learning more about the monkey and cat duo. More than likely, most would have wanted to know why there was a post about monkeys on a paid search blog. Clickbait is a term to describe any type of headline or ad that sacrifices quality and accuracy for higher click-thru-rates and web traffic.


We might not even be aware that our ad copy is misleading people to click on an offer that we cannot fulfill. Our ads might not be preparing people for the actual product on the page. Is the offer only valid by signing up for a free trial or with a purchase? Other times, our ads could be advertising a promotion that is no longer valid. Even the difference between “$50 for free shipping” in an ad and “$75 for shipping” on the landing page could make a difference in an actual purchase.


My own personal anecdote has to do with a new campaign launch for a product that provides the resources for an online training program. When the campaign first launched, we were promoting “online courses for your training program.” This is a feature of the product, however, it was misleading people to believe that the product allowed you to register for an online course. We tested this ad against another, which in as much detail as 70 characters allows, explicitly stated what was included on the site. These items included quizzes, reports, tools and a resource library.


Click-thru-rate for the new ads decreased by 14%, despite that, conversion rate increased 20%. Even with the decrease in CTR, the individuals, who did click on the site were more likely to convert and ultimately would bring us more conversions with less traffic. If our purpose is direct response, CTR can be a misleading factor in analyzing ad copy performance and will keep us from seeing the results that we want.


A good rule of thumb is to ensure that conversion rate improvement exceeds CTR downswing. When conversion rate increases at a larger percentage than CTR decreases, you will get more conversions for every impression. Choosing click-thru-rate over conversion rate can hurt direct response efforts.


Don’t Worry, I Didn’t Forget Quality Score


Now let’s address the elephant in the room – what about quality score?


There are the three components of quality score:


  • Expected click-thru-rate
  • Ad relevance
  • Landing page experience


For the most part, Google isn’t lying. A correlation exists between your actual CTR and quality score. It isn’t a far reach to say that expected click-thru-rate is determined from your actual CTR. In the account below, keywords with higher quality scores tend to have higher click-thru-rates.


Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 9.11.54 AM


Why do we even care about quality score? Quality score helps determine our ad rank, which determines how much we pay-per-click. Again, a correlation does exist between quality score and cost-per-click. Quality score does what it claims to do. In the same account, cost-per-click decreases as quality score increases.


Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 9.21.12 AM


The account example that I have been using to demonstrate the purpose of quality score turns out to be a perfect account that does everything that is expected of it. CTR correlates with quality score, which directly correlates with lower CPCs. However, I pulled this data for 5 different accounts and this perfect correlation never repeated itself. There was some trace, but nothing so definitive.


Here is the data from the account above compared to another account:


Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 9.28.14 AM


It follows the same pattern for the most part, but it doesn’t align quite so absolutely.


As interesting as this is, it doesn’t negate the idea that good click-thru-rates do not guarantee good conversion numbers. Good quality scores and low CPCs do not promise a higher conversion rate or lower cost-per-conversions.


Last Remarks


Quality score isn’t to be ignored since it does influence cost-per-click, however, there is a balance between having good quality scores and seeing the performance that actually matters. For me, there are two solutions: impressions-until-conversions and common sense.


Impressions-until-conversions is the answer to giving weight to both click-thru-rate and conversion rate at the data level. Impressions-until-conversions, which is calculated by impressions divided by conversions, combines the necessary CTR and the all-important conversion data.


In theory, the common sense part should be the easiest component. Ad copy is the part of the paid search process that get people to the website. Getting them there is only part one. Ad copy also needs to prepare people for what to expect on the website. This is why CRO tests or ad tests that align call-to-actions on both the landing page and in the ad tend to see good results. Not living up to expectations or having incorrect information is going to have the opposite impact on the potential customer. If we’re lucky, their first experience with the brand will be just disappointment instead of full out distrust when our ads have led them astray.