The Click-Through Red Herring

Every month I get emails from places like Barnes & Noble and Borders telling me about all the great deals they have going on. These emails are loaded with deals: 20% off this, three-for-one that, NY Times Best Seller the other. The idea behind this kind of campaign seems to be that if one thing doesn’t catch your eye, something else is sure to. This improves click-through, in theory.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this kind of marketing if your primary goal is to boost click-through rates. But the point of direct marketing is not – or rather, rarely should be – to get people to click links. No, the point of direct marketing is to convert leads to customers.

Let me frame it another way. If your business is like most American businesses, chances are that you’re getting relatively similar click-through rates to your competition. Yes, there are lots of things you can do to ensure a good click-through rate, and these things are relatively simple and intuitive. But your competition knows all of these tricks, too, and so is probably seeing similar success.

You can spend a lot of time and money boosting click-through rates, but let’s face it – there’s no click-through formula. Click-through involves a million factors that are outside of your control, which means that there is an invisible upper limit to the click-through rate of a given campaign.

So if so much of it is out of your control, you have two options. You can spend your time and money maximizing those elements which you can control to boost click-through, or you can focus on converting clickers to customers. The latter makes a lot more sense to me.

Here’s what your competition doesn’t know. Creating a single, targeted message with one call to action, while it may only boost click-through rates marginally, stands a much better chance of converting a would-be customer to an actual customer.

Am I saying forget click-through rates and focus entirely on conversion? That would be putting the cart before the horse a little bit. I recommend you do all the things you usually do for click-through: A-B testing, subject swaps, surveying and polling, etc. But remember that the more time you spend on click-through, the less time you have to spend on conversion – and conversion is where the money is.

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