The jpoc guide Website advertising income for small websites
The Click Through Ratio or CTR

The Click Through Rate is the ratio of clicks to ad impressions. It is an important number for any site that is running ads. Many different factors will affect the CTR that you see on your ads. Some, you can do something about. Others are not in the control of the webmaster but they are down to the advertisers.

Everyone is always seeking a high CTR but mostly they are some way below one percent. That's less than one click per hundred ad views.

So, what are the causes of low CTR and what can you do about this?

Banner positioning

Your ads may be in the wrong place on the page. If the ads are hidden away at the bottom of a page then nobody will see them and they will never be clicked. Everyone says that you should place ads in the top part of each page in a position such that a surfer will see them without scrolling down. That may not always be the answer. Suppose that you have a page dedicated to the actress Ashley Judd with an ad banner right at the top of the page. But, directly below the banner, you have a photo of her and then your text, listing her film appearances and describing her career is below that. When a surfer comes to the page, what do they look at first? Right, the picture and not the banner. Then what happens? The visitor scrolls down to read all about the life and career of Ashley Judd and forgets the banner. They reach the bottom of the page where you keep your links and the visitor is much more likely to click a link than to go back up to the ad banner. So, "top of the page" is not necessarily the answer to ad positioning. The correct place is where the visitor is likely to be looking when they make decision that they will now leave your page.

Site stickiness

One thing that can push down your CTR is the stickiness of your site. How many pages does a visitor view when they come to your website? For example, suppose that you have a site of movie reviews and you get most of your traffic from search engines. "The Passion of Darkly Noon" is on TV tonight and so somebody, who wants to see a review of this film, enters "passion darkly noon" into their favourite search engine and sees that your site has a review and clicks the link to your page. Now, what happens when they have read the page? Perhaps they want to read more about the movie in which case they will go back to the search engine and look at the other links or perhaps they found out enough and so they decide that it is time to move on. This is the point at which they may click on your ad. So, you have one potential ad click for one page view.

Now suppose instead that you have a site about cats and somebody visits your site after searching for "caring for cat fur" on the net. They visit your site and discover that you have a page on grooming a cat and that page has links to you pages on shampooing a cat's fur and the right diet to give a cat a smooth glossy coat. They read those and then visit your cat care home page, they see that there is a lot of useful information there and add a bookmark. Now, they will go elsewhere and this is the point at which they may decide to click on an ad that is displayed.

The second site has to display half a dozen pages before the visitor may be tempted to click an advertisement whereas the first site only displayed one page before the visitor reached the point of perhaps clicking on an ad. Undoubtedly, the first site will have a higher CTR simply because it shows fewer pages per visit.

Banner Quality

If your ad supplier just delivers poor banners, or keeps repeating the same ones again and again then there is nothing that you can do short of switching to another source of ads. If a site shows the same banner for a week, the CTR will start to fall. Not only will regular visitors already have seen the banner but new visitors probably saw it earlier on another site.

Banner Relevance

If your site is devoted to the latest teenage pop craze, your visitors are not likely to click on an ad for a company offering discounts on late booked ocean cruises. It's hard to have much control over this if you are running a small website. It's not worth anyone's time to decide which ads to send to you and, if you are just serving a few thousand pages a month, you will not generate enough clicks for an automatic targeting programme to do much good.

Banner Intent

This is not an area that many people think about but it is possible to design a banner to get a low click through and save money. Suppose that the National Pizza Council wanted to encourage more people to eat pizza. They could run banners that just say "Eat a pizza today" with no encouragement for anyone to click the banner. Of course nobody will click this banner, there is no reason to. If the NPC can get this ad to run on a CPC basis they will be very happy indeed.

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