When you’re looking at the success of a digital ad campaign, CTRs (click-through rates) are a critical metric. Of course, they aren’t the only indicator, but they are something most advertisers are aware of and therefore emphasize. So, what happens when CTRs are underperforming?

There are many reasons that audiences might not be clicking on that ad. They vary depending on the type of digital advertising — display, SEM (search engine marketing) or social media ads. Customer expectations may also be unrealistic, so start any campaign kickoff with some transparency. You can share some benchmarks, but sometimes it’s not an even comparison.

Once a campaign is in flight and CTRs are looking underwhelming, there are strategies you can use to get things back on the right track.

Optimize SEM Campaigns to Drive More Clicks

The clicks from SEM ads can turn into instant conversions and revenue for advertisers. In these scenarios, consumers are ready to purchase, and being a top result puts your client in their purview. However, clicks on SEM ads aren’t so easy to get.

The reason people will click on them has everything to do with the copy and CTA (call to action) and its relevance to the searcher. In building the campaign, you’ve done the foundational parts of targeting the right keywords and narrowing the audience by other options like geography. There are also dynamic headers and copy that get displayed. Then, it just runs without any adjustments. It can become a big expense with little ROI.

To improve CTRs for your ad sets, you’ll want to use conversion-based optimization. In this approach, there is continuous optimization based on performance, so more ad budget shifts to the keywords and text ads that get the most clicks. This in-flight ability to optimize can improve CTR performance.

Look at Targeting

For display and social media ads, CTRs may be disappointing because of targeting. In many cases, targeting can be too broad, so the ad reaches too many people who don’t find it relevant. Remember that CTR is equal to impressions divided by clicks. If impressions aren’t displayed to the audience, clicks won’t follow.

Conversely, targeting could be too narrow, and enough people don’t see the ad. When you strategize about targeting with advertisers, you’re trying to define their ideal buyer. It can be challenging if the business doesn’t have clarity on this. They may also be operating under stereotypes or invalid assumptions.

Revisit what the parameters are, and ask more questions of your customers regarding who buys their products or needs their services. Try some new ways to target interests that may have good alignment.

For example, a local hardware company may have specific ideas about demographics for its ads. They may focus more on men and specific age groups. However, the reality is that people of all ages and all genders frequent these stores. Focus more on targeting interests like those who enjoy DIY projects or home improvement programming.

Assess Inventory and Its Quality

With programmatic advertising, an ad can appear on a variety of websites. Not every network has the greatest inventory quality. Ads could be running on websites that don’t align with the context of the ad or the audiences your advertisers want to engage. If you’re using a third-party digital solution, it’s connected to a DSP (demand-side platform). Not all DSPs are the same, so inventory quality varies.

If CTR performance seems universal, no matter the targeting or optimization, you should dig and evaluate the DSP to see if it’s contributing to poor performance.

Go Back to the Creative

The creative, both the visuals and copy, can either make or break an ad. If it’s too generic or has little impact, people won’t click. Businesses often stick with the same thing they’ve been using for years. Declining CTRs could get a boost with fresh creative.

Challenge your advertisers to rethink their creative and move in a more unique direction that stays true to their brand. You can start by talking about digital creative best practices. Depending on the business, product or service, they may be willing to try funny ad ideas, GIFs or memes!

Experiment with new creative for campaigns that otherwise stay the same. This comparison will reveal if creative was why clicks were few and far between.

Evaluate the CTA

The CTA is the most crucial part of the ad. It should tell people what they can expect if they click. In addition to the words, its presentation on the display ad matters. It needs to stand out and get attention. Unfortunately, many ads use basic CTAs like “Learn More,” and such a term has rarely incited someone to click. Lead with strong action verbs that define what will happen when they click. If you need inspiration, check out our post with 100 CTAs.

Improve CTRs by Experimenting, Optimizing and Evolving

CTR is a tricky metric. It means a lot, but the science behind why someone clicks (or not) is complex. Many elements can cause things to go sideways. What’s critical is to monitor campaigns and CTRs, so you can make changes in-flight. You also want to be clear and honest with advertisers about why clicks weren’t better. If you come to the table with ideas and explanations, they’ll likely give you the opportunity to experiment, optimize and evolve.

For more tips on talking about performance with customers, read our post on how to explain results to advertisers.