Artificially high CTR rates on tablets due to fat finger fumbling?

There’s no denying that tablets are increasingly used as web browsing devices. We reported a while ago that Apple’s iPad in itself accounted for 1.2% of worldwide web usage. Out of all tablets, iPad accounted for 88% of worldwide tablet web traffic and Android grabbed almost 11%.

And according to several research reports, web ad campaigns get better CTR (Click Through Rates) and lower CPC (Cost Per Click) on tablets than both smartphones and regular desktop computers.

But why better CTR and CPC? It could be because tablets are most often used in environments where the user should feel relaxed, like in their home and in the evening, thereby making them more likely to tap on ads.

We wonder however if there’s not something more sneaky at play here? Could the higher CTR be explained, at least in part, by users mistakenly tapping on web ads on a tablet, something known as the fat-finger problem?

Better CTR and lower CPC

So whether they are iPads or something else, tablets are selling fast, and it appears users are browsing the web a lot with their devices. Tablets are more attractive to browse on than smartphones because of the larger display, which often has enough resolution and size to display a regular web page in full width.

This trend of increased web browsing with tablets hasn’t gone unnoticed by the online advertising industry of course. In July 2011 Google added the ability to target “Tablets with full browsers” in AdWords. How much this has been used since then we don’t know but we assume it at least spurred on interest in targeting tablets with ads.

Here are some numbers relating to tablets and online advertising:

  • Search ad spend still massively falls on computers (93%), with smartphones (5%) and tablets (2%) trailing far behind.
  • Tablets already compose almost 2% of all search impressions across desktop as well as mobile and tablets contribute 13.3% of all mobile clicks.
  • In one report, CPC for tablets was 85% compared to computers (100%) and the CTR was 137%. In other words, putting ads on a tablet was both cheaper per click as well as produced a better rate of clicks.
  • Another report found that tablets get 137% CTR compared to computers. In terms of CPC, tablets get 71% compared to computers. Again, ads on tablets has cheaper CPC and higher CTR compared to computers.

The fat-finger problem: it’s real

So why is it that tablets are seeing better CTR and lower CPC than other platforms? We had a suspicion that perhaps it’s because many websites aren’t necessarily mobile-friendly and users end up tapping on ads by mistake.

A quick check with our followers on Twitter and Facebook seem to indicate that most users have experienced exactly this. For example, on Twitter Morgan Sundqvist wrote: “Ohh yes… when you are pinch-zooming and do it a bit sloppy.. or when scrolling and accidentally tap instead…”

We’re not sure the credit for labeling this phenomenon should go to the Nielsen Norman Group or NNG, but it did mention “the fat-finger problem” in the Usability of iPad Apps and Websites report from earlier this year.

In the report NNG writes that the “fat-finger” problem is when targets on the display are too small to get to, to tap on. Even if a user can actually tap on them, the very fact that they are sometimes small and awkwardly placed means they have to work harder at hitting them, thereby making it less likely that they’ll try or manage to score a correct hit.

Just imagine a web ad placed close to a small piece of text in a link or a graphical button that you want to tap on. If you’re not completely concentrated or zoom in, chances are that you may miss it.

What to think about

Whether the higher CTR and lower CPC on tablets are due to fat fingers or not, we want to leave you with some suggestions for what to do when developing mobile-friendly sites.

You could argue that this isn’t even an issue. If users tap on ads by mistake you probably make a bit more money and all is well. But remember that if users tap on ads by mistake, chances are they also tap on other links by mistake, and that is not good news for you or your site.

If you don’t want to resort to turning your mobile device into a Padzilla the most obvious option is to make your site more friendly to tablet users. Here are our suggestions for what to think about:

  • Consider your audience – As Google showed, tablets are used mostly at home and in the evening. This means tablets, for a majority of users, are not used for work.
  • Make a tablet-optimized version of your website – If your site is developed according to contemporary practice, it’s not that hard to make a special version of it for tablets. Chances are you already have one that targets smartphones.
  • Make things look touchable – The Nielsen Norman Group calls this Affordances, which basically means that it should be clear to a user, just by looking at the display, what is touchable or not. Confused users mean unhappy users.
  • Consider a mobile app but only after really thinking through the website first – Don’t just make an app that does the same as the site. With an app you have more opportunities to play around with the interface and functionality so give users a real reason to use the app.
  • Don’t serve up smartphone design to tablet users – If you don’t make a tablet version of your site just serve up the regular version. That’s better than frustrating tablet users by forcing the smartphone style on them.

If you follow these guidelines your website will be more accessible to tablet users. And with the number of tablet users growing fast, having a tablet-friendly site will mean better sales, whether it be in direct or indirect returns.

iPad picture by Skampy.

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