Inspired by true events. An interesting “story” that outlines methods adopted by media firms and agencies to cheat customers regarding Impressions, Clicks and Click Rate (CTR) % for web-banner ad campaigns. And, possibly how you can stay ahead of their game…
It was a Monday afternoon. We were conducting a telecon to review on-going projects, and we were nearing the end of the discussion. Suddenly, our head of consulting interrupted and mentioned that he had just received an email from an important client. “I want to discuss it immediately”, he insisted.
We all knew that the client was a global MNC and one of our fast growing accounts. if we could continue to retain their trust and provide value, we could do a lot of business with them.
“Sure, go ahead”, I replied,
“I have just received this email from them, and they are mentioning that they are receiving X% of Click-Through-Rates (CTR) from our website, while they are getting 10-times the CTR% from competing websites. They’re asking, if our report is accurate, and if yes–why such a large difference?”
“Did you say there’s a difference of 10X?”
There was silence for the next one minute.
Then, I asked–is it possible for us to know which two websites are these, so we can study them and figure out where are we lacking?
“Sure, give me some time, and we will reconvene”, was the reply.
Secretly, we were hoping that the client will not give any names stating confidentiality and it will turn out to be a negotiation tactic, to drive more juice from us.
We were wrong.
After four hours, we reconvened. The client had shared the names of the two websites. We also got to know that one was reporting 8X w.r.t. CTR and the other 10X.
The head of our Digital Marketing Services team had also joined us, this time.
“Err, what’s their average-time-per-user–as per Alexa or SEMrush?”
“First one has 52 seconds, and second one is 1.1 minutes.”
“So users are spending 20 times more time on our website, but clicking the same banner on their websites 10 times more?”
“Err, it seems like that.”
“Strangely, their web banner on all websites has body text that’s not readable. Why would it be receiving such a high CTR?”
Since, we had no means of getting the “real” answer to that question, a colleague proposed that we turn the question on its head.
“If we were to provide a higher CTR to this client, is there a way we can GAME the system?”
Then, someone asked, what if we simply shared a report with higher number of clicks and CTR–how will the client know the correct figures?
“What format is the report shared with the client?”
“It’s a presentation sent in a PDF format.”
“Does it have a screenshot of the Google Analytics report?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Can it be photo-shopped?”
“Sure, any document can be.”
“Is the client using a UTM code here, through which they can track the actual clicks?”
“No, not in this case.”
“That’s good. Does our contract allow the client to audit and view our Google Analytics reports in real time?”
“No, we have never pitched an option like that.”
“Ok, great. So we got one solution for sure. Any other?”
“Check out this other website. They have placed their web banner at a location, where anyone using a mobile will accidentally click on the banner.”
“Can we place their banner on such a position too?”
“Yes, that’s a good idea.”
“Did the client book a specific position?”
“Yes, they did, but since this looks like a more premium position, we can propose it as a special privilege to them as a token of thanks to the large volume of business given by them.”
“I’m sure they will be happy to get a more visible position and higher number of clicks, even if they are “accidental” ones.”
“Great, we got two options now. Can we come up with more?”
“What if we got a few trainees to install a tool that changes their IP dynamically at the click of a button, and after every change–they clicked on the client’s web banners? They will all get registered as clicks by unique users–right?”
“Interesting! Yes, this could work even if they had a UTM tracker.”
“Three options! We’re really thinking out of the box now! Can we figure out more?”
“How about trying one of the bots to change IP and click on their banner ads?”
“Just spoke to the IT team, and they believe it’s possible, They will need a couple of days to check and confirm, and then they will share the approx cost for such a bot.”
“Hurray! We now have four options. Can there be any more?”
“There are websites to whom if you pay, they generate clicks for you!”
“Why pay them when we can hire trainees?”
“The legal liability on us gets reduced, because now they are doing the hanky-panky, not us. We have only paid them to promote our link. Plus, they really do a professional job to make it look like genuine traffic to Analytics platforms.”
“How’s that possible?”
“The folks they depute will click on the client’s URL, go to the landing page, spend some time there, and then click on a couple of links further, so that bounce-rate is low, and time-spent-per-user is decent.”
“Wow, five options! This is unbelievable.”
“I think I have one more…how about we run ads on other platforms such as Facebook, with the client’s URL being the CTA for these promotions?”
“While this would cost us, but we could profit from the arbitrage i.e. the fee we have charged the client, and the amount we will need to pay Facebook.”
“But won’t clicks via Facebook cost us as much as what the client paying us? Else, why would the client pay us, and not Facebook?”
“They want to target our niche audience, but if we target generic audience in Facebook and generate clicks from them, the cost per click would be super low, and the client won’t know.”
“And those clicks will get counted as part of our campaign?”
“Yes, they will.”
“And, are you sure that we can generate clicks at a lower cost via Facebook?”
“Oh! Yes, Facebook is great at generating clicks for any type of promotions. They seem to have users who are happy to click on ads, even if not related to them.”
“While this client does not have a UTM code, if they had, would they have been able to know that we are generating clicks from a platform other than the one they paid for?
“Awesome! We’ve done some ground-breaking innovation today by compiling six ways for us to boost the clicks for our customers and make them happier about their RoI!”
“Let’s keep this a secret–else our competitors may also use them to beat us at this game.”
NUTSHELL: ONLY CONVERSIONS MATTER
Impressions, Clicks and Click-Rates are useless.
It would be FOOLISH to gauge success of one’s digital marketing campaign based on any of these metrics. (Harsh language used intentionally to get the point across.)
Two simple reasons: all of them can be manipulated. And, even if not—they don’t signify anything of value.
So what should you measure?
Conversions. Or in simpler words—Results.
If you’re doing a list building or a lead generation campaign, then measure how many records or leads got generated. If you’re doing a webinar promotion, then measure how many registered or attended, If you’re promoting a white-paper, measure how many people filled the form to download it.
Smart marketers use these metrics like Impressions, Clicks and CTR% to study the funnel and improve conversions at each stage to increase the end-result, but will never compare a campaign or a platform based on these 3 parameters.
TRUST EFY INITIATIVES
1. FAKE REPORTS: Any of our clients can ask for access to LIVE Google Analytics, or whichever tools based on which we are sharing performance metrics. There is NO extra fee. No exceptions.
2. ACCIDENTAL CLICKS: We have removed all ad positions that are designed to generate accidental clicks. Plus, we try and deliver more impressions via the desktop than mobile, to improve the quality of engagement.
3. PROMOTE UTMS: We encourage clients to use UTM codes with their banner ads. This eliminates possibility of fake report and creates an opportunity to review use of other mediums to promote clicks.
4. FOCUS ON CONVERSIONS: We always propose campaigns based on Conversions, and not the other 3 parameters.
THE BIG CHALLENGE
There is no doubt that False Clicks are the toughest to detect or avoid. Seemingly there are tools that can analyse the trends and indicate attempts to “fake it”.
We suggest that clients do review their reports once in a while, especially where they see large variance in CTR % for the same set of creatives.
Of course, if you’re tracking conversions, then chances of being cheated are reduced.