By Interactive Strategies
Oct 12, 2015

A Tale of Two Click Rates

If you do any kind of online advertising, you’ve probably encountered the following situation: 

While running an ad on your network of choice, you’re eager to assess its performance. So, you log into Facebook’s Insights – (or Google’s Ad Manager) – and start doing some analysis. You discover that your ad received 52,684 clicks…and you’re ecstatic! Unfortunately, you quickly realize that the math isn’t adding up. 

According to your web analytics provider, the number of referrals driven from the ad’s network is nowhere near 52,684…it’s not even 50,000. And now you’re left wondering, what gives?

At Interactive Strategies, we’ve come up with a name for the discrepancy between these two reports – and we call it “the gray click effect.” Why? Because it’s unclear whether the difference between these two numbers represents real clicks or not.

In a worst-case scenario, gray clicks can represent click fraud. In a best-case scenario, gray clicks can expose a major blind spot in the path between your ad and your site. 

That said, monitoring gray clicks is critical – and might drive you to uncover the following issues: 

1) A site misconfiguration: Site misconfigurations – either in your code or in the implementation of your analytics platform – are a major cause of gray clicks. Such types of misconfigurations will distort more than your ad’s performance, but all of your site’s analytics as well. 

If your gray click rate [100 – (Web Analytics Clicks/Platform Clicks) + 100] is higher than 25%, we recommend confirming that your web analytics platform is set up correctly and that there are no filters influencing your reports. 

If both seem to be correct, consider creating custom URLs for your ads. This will enable your web analytics platform to better capture referral data – which is particularly important if your target link is your homepage. 

(PRO TIP: Check out this article for Google’s directions on how to use their URL builder.)

2) Unaccredited attribution windows: Most web analytics solutions fail to count a click or conversion if it takes multiple impressions and comes from a source other than a direct click. 

Meanwhile, this can skew your data – resulting in the gray click effect – because the web analytics solution is not crediting your ad for the click, even if the user saw the ad and then searched for the service or product without clicking on the ad itself. 

Meanwhile, if Facebook serves your ad to a user who visits your target URL as many as 28 days later, Facebook counts the activity as a click. To prevent this inconsistency, you can tailor your attribution window to a specific length of time – minimizing the number of gray clicks. 

(PRO TIP: Check out this article for Facebook’s directions on how to change attribution windows.)

2) If your gray click rate continues to be greater than 40% – even after you’ve ensured that your web analytics are configured correctly and your platform attribution window has been set to 24-48 hours, it is time to examine the possibility of click fraud. To do this, check for the following warning signs:

• An exponential spike in clicks with no corresponding conversions

• A large drop in page visits 

• An increase in bounce rates 

If you detect one or more of these click fraud-warning signs, contact your ad platform immediately and report this activity. After all, the digital world is a lot like the physical world. When you see something…you should say something

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