Clickthroughs Continue To Muddle Mobile Performance For Location-based Ads

“Fat Fingers” is one issue. But Last Click Attribution models have little value for online-to-offline, smartphone-centered ad efforts.

Ping Mobile's Shuli Lowy
Ping Mobile’s Shuli Lowy

Mobile marketers have been inveighing against the industry’s reliance on clickthrough rates for years. As location-based advertising increasingly becomes one of the primary drivers behind mobile ad spending, the arguments against CTR are only going to get louder, says Shuli Lowy, marketing director at Ping Mobile.

GeoMarketing: How effective is the use of clickthrough rates in proving that mobile, location-based campaigns drive offline results?

Shuli Lowy: Clickthrough rates are poor indicators of a campaign’s performance for three reasons: firstly, many clicks on mobile ads are accidental. Accidental clicks, also known as the “Fat Finger Syndrome,” are more likely to occur on mobile devices because the screens are small and it’s easy to press the wrong spot.

Secondly, clickthrough rates are only accurate when you hit the common denominator for the theoretical click through rate. There’s no way to know what that common denominator is. This becomes less of an issue as the campaign becomes larger. When dealing with large programmatic buys the click through rate may be accurate when looking at a campaign in its entirety but when you start breaking down the data by the publisher, time of day, demographic, and location the pools of ads get smaller and the CTRs are therefore more likely to be inaccurate.

Lastly, there are several studies that demonstrate that clickthroughs are not necessarily associated with ultimate sale conversions. Among these is a joint study that was done in partnership with Facebook and Datalogix that measured sales conversions across 50 ad campaigns. The study found that 99 percent of conversions came from people who saw an ad but didn’t click on it.

Where does mobile ad attribution currently stand?

There is a big need for better ad attribution in mobile that is scalable and financially viable. Digital marketers expect conversion metrics throughout their paid media and make decisions about where to invest their marketing spend accordingly. If a channel successfully closes sales it’s more likely to get marketing budget. This is known as a last click attribution model.

Mobile is also particularly ill-suited for a Last Click Attribution model, which is what most digital marketers use. Last click attribution is something that marketers know they need to move away from, but it’s difficult to justify that move without sufficient data to demonstrate that the earlier steps in the sales process contributed to the sale.

Last Click Attribution, as rendered by ad tech company Responsys.
Last Click Attribution, as rendered by ad tech company Responsys.

What are some of the challenges you encounter in the mobile space when it comes to tracking someone along the purchase path? How do you address those challenges?

Tracking a consumer across the purchase path is particularly challenging in mobile due to limited data resources and because of mobile’s place in the purchase path.

Unlike desktop ads, the tracking cookies allowed on a mobile device are far more limiting. This makes marketers have to resort to more creative data resources to figure out how to target people.

These tactics include retargeting desktop activity on mobile, getting people to sign into accounts on all devices so that we can track their omnichannel activity, inferring demographic data based on what a consumer is doing on his/her device, partnering with other data sources and attempting to connect the dots of data profiles, or tracking a user’s locations so that we know when he/she has walked into a store.

Marketers must do their best at any point in time to create the best attribution models possible with the tools at hand. Those tools are constantly evolving and the meaningful metrics are different for each brand. Attribution is a forefront focus of all digital marketers and we are constantly seeing companies innovate in the space—providing new tools to engage and track consumers. There is no recipe to perfect attribution but we are getting better at it every day.

What else clouds our understanding about the role mobile plays in consumers’ path-to-purchase?

Mobile, for most verticals, plays a huge role in building awareness, interest, and desire for products—but less so in closing the sale. The amount of product research done by consumers on mobile devices is astounding. That research is valuable as it has a lot of purchase intent.

A study commissioned by Google found that 93 percent of people who use mobile to research a product go on to make a purchase. But only 17 percent of those who convert end up doing so through mobile — 82 percent convert in store and 45 percent convert on a desktop.

There are many reasons why consumers may be less likely to convert on mobile devices (and that is a major focuses for mobile payment companies.) The fact is that right now mobile is playing a big role in pushing consumers to the finish line but consumers are choosing to cross that line in places other than mobile. That makes mobile attribution a lot more difficult—it means that lots of other channels of marketing are getting all the final conversion credit that should be partially allocated to mobile.

Bringing offline conversion data into the mix is a big step in bridging this gap and working towards getting visibility into the consumer’s complete journey to the final sale. Measuring SAR (secondary action rate) and incremental lifts in brand awareness or product desire are important tools to focus on as well.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.