The number of online Americans who click on display ads has dropped by 50% since 2007 - and now stands at only 16% of all US internet users, according to updated results from the "Natural Born Clickers" study from comScore, Inc. and Starcom MediaVest.
comScore said the findings point to the importance of measuring display advertising beyond the click, and moving to a more holistic model that incorporates view-through metrics for display ad performance.
The collaborative study, which was originally undertaken in 2007 to gain better insight into how US internet users click on display ads, is based on just-released March 2009 comScore data. It revealed that the number of people who click on display ads in a month has fallen from 32% of internet users in July 2007 to only 16% in March 2009, with an even smaller core of people (representing 8% of the Internet user base) accounting for the vast majority (85%) of all clicks.
Updated 2009 Findings
The original research showed that 32% of internet users clicked on at least one display ad during a month. These clickers were segmented into "heavy," "moderate" and "light"clicking segments based on the group of users accounting for the top 50% of clicks (heavy), middle 30% (moderate), and bottom 20% (light).
In 2007, comScore, Starcom and Tacoda found that heavy clickers represented 6% of US internet users, moderate clickers accounted for 10% and light clickers accounted for 16%. By March 2009, those numbers had dropped substantially in each case, to 4% of internet users for heavy clickers, 4% for moderate clickers and 8% for light clickers.
"The act of clicking on a display ad is experiencing rapid attrition in the current digital marketplace," said Linda Anderson, comScore VP of marketing solutions and author of the study. "Today, marketers who attempt to optimize their advertising campaigns solely around the click are assigning no value to the 84% of internet users who don’t click on an ad."
Anderson added that optimizing around clicks is "precisely the wrong thing to do," because other comScore research has shown that non-clicked ads can also have a significant impact. As a result, she added that many marketers are moving to a model that measures the impact that all ad impressions - whether clicked or not – on consumer behavior. This, she said mirrors " the manner in which traditional advertising has been measured for decades using reach and frequency metrics."
"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," said Starcom USA SVP/director, research & analytics John Lowell. "You want people to visit your website, seek more information, purchase a product, become a lead, keep your brand top of mind, learn something new, feel differently – the list goes on. Regardless of whether the consumer clicked on an ad or not, the key is to determine how that ad unit influenced them to think, feel or do something they wouldn’t have done otherwise."
Despite the precipitous decline in clicks, comScore is advocating looking beyond the click because other comScore research has shown that online display ads generate significant lift in trademark search, online and offline sales, and brand-site visitation across all verticals, among those internet users who were exposed to the online ad campaigns - whether they clicked on the ad or not.Additional research from iCrossing recently found that display ad campaigns can increase visits from search engines by nearly 14%, and can boost paid-search click-throughs by nearly 15%. This study also found that display campaigns also aid brand awareness, recognition and preference by attracting visitors to a website.