Click-bait: the Ugly Truth about Online Advertising

pay per click, advertising, attribution

50% of all advertising is useless. We just don’t know which 50%.

Often hailed as the “Father of Advertising,” the late David Ogilvy wrote those words long before there was an Internet, social media or search engines but they’re still worth remembering when implementing a digital marketing strategy and setting an advertising budget.

In fact, despite the wealth of data that can be gleaned from pay-per-click ad campaigns, that data may provide less insight than you might expect. Why? Because even when consumers are interested in the product being pitched, most still won’t click on the ad.

That’s among the counter-intuitive takeaways from a recent survey conducted by Coldstream, a Boston-based advertising agency. According to their research, only 44% of consumers respond to ads that interest them by clicking on them. 56%, on the other hand, respond by searching or browsing.

In other words, they go and seek more information — including from other sources — rather than going directly to the website behind the ad.

Informed consumers often research the products in question to make their purchase decision, notes the report. It also appears that they type web addresses to avoid clicking on ads.

Muddying things even more, those non-click responses can lag hours or days behind the original ad impression. When asked how long they generally waited after seeing an ad before conducting more research about a company or product, the results showed that:

  • 22% responded within 1 hour
  • 30% responded within 24 hours
  • 36% responded days later
  • 11% responded weeks later

Put the two concepts together — not clicking on the original ad and often waiting a day or more to do anything — and it’s easy to see why clickthrough rates for online ads are so low. That’s not to suggest that online advertising has no value – it can be an excellent tool for building awareness – but rather that it needs to be considered part of a larger digital marketing strategy.

Marketers have to take what they know and understand about online metrics and throw them out the window, says marketing expert Richard Meyer. Online ads can reinforce offline ad awareness and although clicks may be low marketers need to look at their overall marketing to ensure that marketing efforts are moving the sales needle.

Doctor Takeaways

Think beyond the last click

Given the expense and emotional nature of cosmetic surgery, it goes without saying that aesthetic consumers spend a lot of time researching procedures and providers, visiting multiple sites along the way. To understand where they’re coming from, you have to follow their entire purchase journey, not just track the “last click” that brought them to your practice website. Marketers call this “attribution” and it can be a valuable tool when determining where to devote your time, energy and budget.

Build awareness not ad campaigns

The lag time between ad impressions and subsequent actions suggests that consumers aren’t particularly impulsive and aesthetic consumers are no exception. For them, the gap between impression, subsequent research and ultimate decision can last weeks, months or more, giving doctors great opportunities to share information, build awareness and lay the groundwork for an ongoing relationship that can lead to new business.

Protect your “brand” by claiming your profiles

When that aesthetic consumer sees a cosmetic surgery ad and then decides to research her options, what links do you want to dominate her search results? Your practice website and related profiles on Facebook, Google+ and RealSelf or those of your competitors? After all, they’ve already opted not to click on your ad; don’t give them the opportunity to click away again.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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  • Anonymous

    Consumers cannot be fully informed about cosmetic procedures because the doctors lie about them! And doctors need to stop mixing reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. The impressions that “before” and “after” photos give are misleading. They don’t show those people who have been butchered, and they don’t show the long-term negative health impact of those who aren’t. The butchering of human beings by “doctors” needs to stop.