American Marketer


Can marketers and publishers trust their mobile click-through rates?

December 3, 2013

Manny Puentes is chief technology officer of LinkSmart



By Manny Puentes

It is no secret that Web site traffic from mobile devices has grown year over year. In fact, according to a 2013 comScore report, nearly 40 percent of all Internet traffic is generated from mobile devices.

While most believed the rise of mobile signaled trouble for marketers and publishers whose revenue model relies on online display advertising, click-through rates (CTRs) on mobile ads have actually risen over time.

This rise in CTRs on mobile has fueled the proliferation of mobile ads and promotions, and many marketers have celebrated impressive click-throughs for various campaigns.

But CTRs do not equal sales leads, and conversation rates are a critical piece of the equation. Perhaps these marketers celebrated prematurely or perhaps there was no cause for celebration after all.

Fingering the problem

Clicking on an ad with your finger is often physically less precise – especially on smaller screen – than clicking with a mouse on a desktop computer, and these ergonomic technicalities can dramatically alter the meaning of CTRs.

What does this mean?

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, just 12 percent of smartphone users clicked on a mobile ad.

Reports by Trademob and GoldSpot Media suggest that anywhere between 22 percent and 38 percent of those clicks were accidental, likely a combined result of improperly scaled ads, small screens and tiny buttons.

This fat-finger syndrome creates a poor user experience and results in low conversion rates for marketers and advertisers.

To get a more accurate picture of their ROI on mobile advertising, marketers and publishers should pay attention to the differences in their CTRs on desktop versus mobile ads and promotions, as well as watch the conversion rates to ensure their marketing dollars are being spent effectively.

For example, in June 2012, SocialCode, a Facebook ads API partner, reported on the differences in CTRs on Facebook mobile ads versus desktop ads for fan acquisition campaigns.

While the CTR on mobile ads measured at 0.79 percent compared to the 0.33 percent for desktop ads, the number of users who liked the post or fan page was lower than the total average across all devices.

This lower overall conversion rate can likely be blamed on fat-finger syndrome, with users fumbling with their phones and clicking mobile ads inadvertently.

Finger tips

So what can marketers and publishers do to ensure they receive the most value from their marketing dollars and attract the most engaged users? Here are a few recommendations.

Avoid oversized ads. In recent months, I have seen an increase in the number of takeover-type ads that fill the entire mobile browser.

When readers scroll to read more content, they cannot help but click these ads that may have little to no value to them, which causes a negative user experience and results in low conversion rates.

Stick to the smaller sizes when it comes to display to ensure you reach the customers that will convert.

Use in-content links to your advantage. Whereas display ads have a significantly higher click-through on mobile devices than on desktops, we have found that in-content links perform very similarly from a CTR perspective across devices.

We have seen a 0.39 percent CTR on links appearing on desktop displays and a 0.35 percent CTR on links appearing in mobile browsers.

Since the data matches so closely and consistently across all different screen sizes, we can confidently conclude that readers are intentionally clicking on these links, rather than hitting them inadvertently as they are navigating through an article.

Do not place ads near navigation. Similar to the problem that takeover ads present, ads near navigational elements cause inadvertent clicks as users try to get to other sections or areas of the site via the mobile browser back or bookmark buttons.

Use device targeting. Ensure your campaigns leverage device targeting to optimize for screen resolution. Properly proportioned advertisements will yield higher conversations, significantly improving ROI.

MOBILE BRINGS unique opportunities to marketers.

The increase in mobile usage allows marketers to not only capture the intent and location of a user, but also allows for unique opportunities for contextually relevant brand interaction.

While marketers have new ways to reach new audiences, they must keep in mind that new technologies bring a new set of challenges, all of which can be overcome with the right mobile strategy.

Manny Puentes is chief technology officer of LinkSmart, Boulder, CO. Reach him at