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Are all Clickthroughs created equal? Some thoughts for those interested in advertising on the 'Net

This article will be of most interest to people running commercial sites, but people running personal homepages may find it amusing. As with all my opinion pages, your comments are appreciated.

It seems that most webmasters are obsessed about three things; first, their rank in the search engines, the number of people who visit their site, and, well, the size of certain unmentionable parts of their... well, you get the idea.

I will argue, however, that the raw number of people visiting your site is almost always the wrong way to judge how well you are doing. In the rest of this article, I'll take the perspective of a webmaster whose site sells things because, well, that's what I am. For me, the important thing is not how many people visit, but how many I can suck... I mean, persuade into contributing some money.

Now, your "metric" for success may be different from mine, but in all cases, it won't be the number of clickthroughs you get, but rather, the number of clickthroughs that end up with the end-result you want.

It is easy to get clickthroughs. You can buy them by the megabyte by purchasing banner advertising, or by spending a lot of time or money to get a high search-engine ranking, and so on. What you have to determine is, "how much is each clickthrough costing me?", and "am I getting my money's worth?"

Let's say you buy advertising on a major site for $1.50 per clickthrough. If 10% of the clickthroughs result in a new customer/consumer/user for your site, then $1.50 cost-per-click becomes $15 per new customer. If only 1% do, then it's $150 per customer. This is wonderful if you are selling cars, lousy if you're selling bubblegum.

Bottom line, if spending $40 on promotion generates $60 in income from the clickthroughs, great. If it generates $20, you're in deep doo-doo. You've got to have some way of determining if a particular investment in promotion, be it banner ads, search engine ranking, etc., is paying off for you. Fortunately, in many cases, you can get a pretty good measurement of these things.

If there's one thing I've learned, it is that while all men are created equal, all clickthroughs definitely are not. In rough decreasing order of quality:

So, weirdly enough, I would much rather get 50 clickthroughs from people who found me on Yahoo than 1000 Free-For-All clickthroughs. The former are looking to promote their website; the latter are bored out of their minds so much they have nothing to do but cruise FFA sites.
This was one of the interesting lessons I learned from running the FFA submitter Secret Net Tool. It got me hundreds of clickthroughs and very little income. If I had used a commercial service that does FFA submissions, I would have wasted my money.

On to some practical suggestions for optimizing your return on investment from online marketing.

First, clearly the best investment around is getting yourself properly listed with all the indexes. But since you're already here, you've probably got that well in hand.

If you are going to target search engines with banner campaigns and ranking campaigns campaigns, it makes sense to do some research to make sure you are targeting the right things. A good place to cheaply test things out is They get a lot of flack for selling top positions in search returns, but I find them a wonderful resource. Rather than mess around trying to capture lots keywords on all the search engines, lets you quickly test which keywords work, and how well they work.

For example, by doing a test using I quickly found out that by far the most important keyword for me was "add url", for example. I was surprised. I thought it would be something like "register site" or "promote website". Nope. 80% of the clickthroughs came from "Add URL". What I also found out, equally important, was whether or not it was worth the expenditure of time and effort to try and capture a high position for that and other keywords.

For example, if keyword A gets 2 times as many clickthroughs as keyword B, but B has a clickthrough-to-sale conversion rate 3 times better than A, B is the keyword you want to target; those clickthroughs are more valuable to you. And in my case, while "Add URL" generated more clickthroughs, the conversion rate on more targeted keywords like "Register Website" was higher. So if I were to buy keyword-based advertising on a major search engine like AltaVista, I wouldn't target "Add URL"; I'd get more for my money (but less hits) with "Register Website".

If you are paying high rates for banner advertising, this kind of information is crucial to determining when you want your ad shown. I personally would never pay on a per-banner-displayed ("CPM") basis, btw; only on a per-clickthrough or per-conversion basis. And don't let the sites bull you and say they only do CPM deals. If your budget is big enough, they'll do cost-per-clickthrough deals as long as you sign a non-disclosure in blood and promise your firstborn if you blab.

Back to Their clickthroughs cost typically 1-2 cents (not dollars!) each, dirt cheap! The only problem is that they don't have the volume yet. So even if I only get a 1% conversion rate into contributors, I'm getting them for a buck or two each!

Also, long range, I suggest that people invest time and money into "link to me" campaigns. The next big metric for search engines is going to be how many "important" sites link to you, because it's much harder to spam, and it works well. So you may be better off long-term spending some of your marketing dollars in making sure that every site on the net that has anything peripherally to do with your focus links to you. You can read some interesting papers about this technique at Google -- and check out their research search engine, it really works well!

Bottom line, if you can set up a situation where an expenditure of $X brings in $X+1, you're "in like flynn," as they used to say. If you can't, then you'd better hope your boss buys the old "we're investing in branding" line, else you're "out the door." The great thing about the net is that, even more so in some cases than junk mail, one can quantify things that in traditional advertising were just wild-assed guesses. But the flip-side is that this puts the campaign-designer's feet to the fire; there's much less "fog of war."

Me, I try to make sure that every ad I pay for (or swap) generates more income than it costs, and that they all have my incredibly memorable domain name mentioned on them. That way, any "branding mindshare" is gravy.

If you would like to reprint this article in your online or paper newsletter, please contact me for permission.

About this site...
This site was developed on a Macintosh, programmed in WebSiphon, and served by WebStar. The author, on those exceedingly rare occasions when he does think, indeed thinks differently.

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