The Coming Death of the Click-Economy

Content Engagement

Ask yourself this simple question – do you create content and amplify it for ad impressions and/or clicks? Is that the content creation goal? Absolutely not. Your goal is content engagement and some type of next action in the buyer’s journey. Then why are ad tech companies forcing us to pay per click or thousand impressions? If we want engagement with our content than why aren’t we paying per engagement?

The Wrong Incentives

On a cost per click (CPC) or cost per thousand impressions (CPM) model the only incentive ad tech companies have is to drive as many clicks and/or impressions as possible. This is problematic for content marketers because there is zero correlation between clicks and actual content engagement. After pouring through millions of dollars in data I found no correlation and, in some cases, a negative correlation between clicks and engagement. This is a sign of fraudulent bot traffic. So why do we optimize for clicks and/or impressions?

Because that’s the only choice we have when working with almost all the ad tech vendors. We hope that a click will lead to engagement, however, according to Chartbeat analytics, two out of three clicks bounce before 15 seconds. Why is this important? Because at 15 seconds 80% of the users consume 70% of the content, on average.

The Engagement-Economy

Shouldn’t we be optimizing for dwell time on site post-click? Yes, we should. Given P&G’s, and a few others, announcement of eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in digital ad spend and not noticing an impact on marketing or sales, speaks directly to the problem of the click-economy. The level of waste, fraud and abuse is spectacular in the click-economy. While transparency is getting better with Ads.txt and third-party data tools, the click-economy still lends itself to black hat bots.

As an industry, we know this, and need to evolve from the click-economy to an engagement-based economy or risk being at a competitive disadvantage as this evolution occurs. It will occur because it must. Brands are demanding a change and the answer is much simpler than what ad tech as an industry is offering, for the most part.

Most solutions offered by ad tech companies for additional transparency are added layers of data from other parties. This helps with transparency and nefarious bots, but ultimately, doesn’t completely fix the problem that brands are complaining about. This year alone over $19 billion dollars is projected to be spent on third-party data in the US. The problem isn’t the lack of data, but the click-economy itself.

Data Stack

This isn’t to suggest that having a robust customer data platform (CDP) that includes data inputs from first, second and third-party sources isn’t valuable to a brand in other ways [also known as a data management platform (DMP)]. However, it’s not necessary in an engagement-based economy where brands only pay for post-click engagement. When ad tech is incentivized to drive content engagement, as opposed to clicks – waste, fraud and abuse is nearly zero – problem solved.

However, in today’s click-economy there’s a lot of cooks in the preverbal ad tech kitchen. A brand’s ad tech data stack could include an identity solution, DMP, dynamic creative optimization (DCO), multiple data supply platforms (DSP) and social media. All of which eat away at media budgets. There’re many ad tech companies sticking their hands in the media budget pot in order to solve a problem that can simply be solved by moving away from the click-economy and focusing on content engagement post-click.

These entrenched interests will try and hold on to their click-economy as long as possible. However, with brands like P&G pulling hundreds of millions of dollars of ad spend, it’s just a matter of time until the content engagement economy becomes mainstream and the inherent transparency that comes with it.

R.I.P. clicks. . .

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