(Almost) a no-hitter

Despite the uproar since the post-iOS 9 ad blocking surge, with pronounced and heated discussion over the ethics, economic impact, social meaning, and much, much more, there has been far less focus on just how effective online advertising actually is. While we know that the digital advertising industry is large, do we actually understand its true material effects?

Effectiveness is, of course, very hard to define much less measure, and as someone with a personal history in PR, I am well aware of the fuzziness of marketing world ROI. But if we assume for a moment that the goal of most internet advertising is to drive traffic to the site displayed (let’s leave brand awareness to the side for now), then the key statistic remains the most basic:

Did a reader see the ad (impression) and then, did they actually click on the ad, or, did they actually respond to ad’s specific call to action. Based on what we know, they almost assuredly did not. According to the widely-accpeted statistics provided by Google-owned DoubleClick, the current overall CTR (or Click Through Rate) of global online advertising is: .06%. In other words, on average, it takes almost 1666 measurable impressions to generate a single click on the ad. Or to put it in gambling terms, the odds of a single impression leading to a click is 1666 to 1. It turns out that, according to a recent book on probabilities in daily life, you have the same odds of dying by falling off a cliff than you do of actually clicking on a particular web ad. Those numbers struck me as so pathetically low that I went to the source to see what the historical trends were. DoubleClick’s data goes back to 2010, and as the chart below shows, CTR’s have never been very good. Again, the data covers all types of online ads and all geographic regions over the last six years.

ctr_history The historical data has an average that is higher than we’ve seen in recent months, at .14%, so better, but not by much. At 713 to 1 odds, an average user still has about as much chance of clicking on an ad as a major league pitcher does of throwing a no-hitter. It happens, but, really, really rarely.

In addition, how many of those very, very few clicks were intentional? According to Google itself, up to 50% of clicks on mobile ads are unintentional.

Not to mention that heavily hyped, recent research, purports that up to 23% of the clicks on video ads, and at least 11% of the clicks on display ads, come from fraudulent ad bots, not human consumers.

Based on these numbers, all of which come from the advertising industry itself, the chances of any individual reader actually seeing an ad, and then consciously and willingly clicking on it are practically infinitesimal. According to another report, on the recent growth of malvertising , the odds of a reader getting a malicious infection from an ad might be higher than of the reader actually clicking on it.

And the advertisers are worried about ad blocking undermining the legitimacy of their industry? I would say they are doing that quite well enough on their own.

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