Definition: Click

What is a Click?

When it comes to online advertising, a click refers to a user clicking on an ad. This is the goal of the majority of online advertising (especially CPC campaigns) and has been since ads first became clickable in 1994. Although things have moved on considerably since then, clicks continue to be used to compare campaigns using the CTR metric.

In 2009 5,300,000,000,000 (5.3 trillion) display ads were served, with an average CTR of 0.1%, meaning around 5,300,000,000 (5.3 billion) clicks were recorded. That’s about fourteen and half million a day, or 10,000 a minute, all year long (and that’s just for display ads!). Considering the ad industry has more than doubled in size since then, it’s surprising we’re not all being deafened by mouse noises at this point.


One of the first Banner Ads

This was one of the first-ever banner ads (run by AT&T)


Unsurprisingly, the word click comes from the noise a mouse makes when you press one of the buttons. Like the disk-shaped save icon, or the term “Hang up the phone”, the word itself is likely to become an anachronism soon, which only older people understand.

It’s important to remember too, that before clicks we had nothing. The effectiveness of ads was based on guesses or excessively complicated (but ultimately untestable) maths. Advertisers would put up a billboard poster, buy some radio or TV time and run your spot and then wait. If your profits went up, you would assume your advertising worked, but you wouldn’t know for sure. With the measurable nature of clicks (and conversions), now we can know for sure whether ads are driving customers to us.


Who Clicks?

What is curious about clicks in online advertising, is that they are so uniform. If you show the same ad to two separate random groups of 1,000 people, it is very likely that roughly the same amount of people will click on them. We all like to think we are unique, but when considered in groups, we all respond to adverts in a fairly predictable way.

The good news for online advertising is that the global trend for CTR has been slowly rising since the start of 2015. This means more clicks for advertisers and more advertising revenue for publishers and networks. Whether this has been caused by better ads or better ad tech, it’s good news for everyone with a website.


CTR Trend graph


We do not all click on every ad type the same amount, however. MPU’s get around a 0.34% CTR overall (in 2016), whereas leaderboards only hit around 0.08% on average. It’s even worse on smartphones – Goldspot Media research suggests that about 50% of clicks on mobile ads are unintentional.

We also do not all click on any ads at all – Bannersnack claims that 54% of people don’t ever click on display ads due to a lack of trust. Although this sounds like a lot, back in 2009 8% of users counted for 85% of clicks, so 46% of users getting involved in online advertising is big increase.

There is also a huge discrepancy from country to country. According to Google Display Benchmarks, New Zealand has a CTR of around 0.87% whereas the UK and US hover around 0.1%, meaning Kiwis click on ads almost nine times as often as Brits or Americans. And it’s not just because that’s the trend down under – Australians CTR hovers around 0.2%.


What It Looks Like

What Happens When You Click On An AdClick to enlarge


Technical Information



Measuring Clicks

There is an industry-standard way to measure clicks, as well as audits that take place to counteract click fraud. The technical details are long and boring, but basically, boil down to not allowing multiple clicks from a single ad impression in too short a period.

This is to try and avoid any technical errors, accidental clicks, as well as counteract click fraud. Google explains the process in detail for Google Ads here.



CPC – Cost Per Click

The way a CPC (or PPC) ad campaign works is that every time an ad gets clicked on, the advertiser pays the agreed amount. Average CPC rates were apparently at about $1.50 in 2015, however, this will differ vastly depending on where you get your information.


CPC Formula or Cost Per Click EquationClick to enlarge

CPC = Cost ÷ Clicks

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Avg. CPC

In RTB ad servers (such as Google Ads) instead of being told the CPC of a campaign, advertisers are told the Avg. CPC. What this means is that for each click the advertiser is paying a different amount, as the clicks are bid on (like on eBay).

The Avg. CPC (average cost per click) is how much an advertiser is paying for clicks when all the costs and clicks are added up (and averaged).



CTR – Click Through Rate

CTR is the number of clicks on an ad, per ad impression (as a percentage). It is a useful way to compare the performance of ad campaigns.

Instead of just looking at the volume of clicks, you can see the number of clicks each had, taking into account the opportunity to gain clicks they had. The average CTR across the internet hovers around 0.2% (which means 2 clicks per 1,000 ad impressions) but generally fluctuates somewhere between 0.1%-0.3%.


CTR Formula or Click Through Rate EquationClick to enlarge

CTR = (Clicks ÷ Impressions) x 1000

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Click Tracking Discrepancies

When someone clicks on an ad, the ad server the ad came from records a click straight away. This is because the way online advertising works is that when you click on the ad, first of all, a message will be sent to the ad server that the ad was clicked on. Then secondly the URL the ad wants you to go to will be sent to the user’s computer.

Due to the order of this happening, it is not unusual for something to go wrong in this second action. Therefore the number of clicks an ad received will generally be at least a little higher than the amount of traffic a website receives from an ad.

This can also occur simply because people are not patient enough to wait for a webpage to load, so will click on an ad, but then close the window before the page loads.



Bounce Rate

Bounce Rate is a measure of interest in a webpage. For a user to have bounced, they must load a page, but take no further actions before leaving it again. This is important for online advertising, as ad servers such as Google Ads will take the bounce rate of ads into account when deciding whether or not to show an ad.

If a user clicks on an ad and leaves a page immediately, this is an indication that the information on that page was not relevant. Therefore the ad will be shown less.


Bounce Rate EquationClick to enlarge

Bounce Rate = (Bounces ÷ Visitors) x 100

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Long Click

A long click is when a user searches for something, follows a link (via an ad or an organic search result), and then doesn’t search for that thing again (or go back to the already open SERPs and clicks a different link).

The goal of search engines is to provide relevant information to users for their searches, and a long click indicates success. A long click will reverse the negative effect of a user bouncing, as it implies the user’s request was fulfilled.



Click Fraud

Click Fraud is when an ad is clicked on for any means other than finding information. This includes:

  • An advertiser clicking on competitors ads to cost them money
  • An advertiser clicking on their own ad to improve results
  • A publisher clicking on ads on their own site to increase their revenue
  • An ad network clicking on an ad to hit targets
  • A bot being used to click on an ad for any reason

In some countries, these things are illegal, in others they are not. Most ad servers will ban people for any of these practices, and none of them is ever a good idea. It is highly likely these types of fraud will be detected, and the benefits will almost never outweigh the costs.



Click Definition

Glossary Index