Google to Tackle Mobile’s Fat Finger Problem

Company making effort to ensure that mobile clicks are intentional

Fat fingers suck…the value out of advertisers’ mobile budgets. Twenty-two percent of clicks on mobile ads are accidental, according to mobile app marketing platform TradeMob. Thus, with a good chunk of advertisers’ spend on mobile ads potentially going down the drain, Google is planning to plug that hole.

On Thursday Google is rolling out a new product aimed at making sure mobile ad clicks are actually intentional: 'confirmed clicks to in-app image ads.' Now when users’ phalanges graze the outer edges of a mobile banner run through Google’s mobile ad network AdMob, they’ll receive a prompt checking that they actually meant to click on the ad. If they did, they’ll click a new button to go to the advertiser’s landing page. If not, they’ll go back to whatever game they were playing or article they were reading.

“We believe we’re doing a damn good job of getting rid of a majority of the mistaken or accidental clicks in apps. We’re trying to lead the industry forward in understanding this is something we all need to address,” said Jonathan Alferness, Google’s director of product management for mobile ads. He wouldn’t say what rate of accidental clicks Google sees, but that it’s roughly the same percentage as others have reported.

Google had introduced confirmed clicks for text ads years ago and reintroduced them earlier this year along with confirmed clicks for app promotion ads when it integrated AdMob with AdWords, explained Alferness. But those formats featured a blue arrow button that users would click on to click through—and affixing that to an image ad would be ugly. Instead Google has created the invisible buffer around its mobile app ads' outer edges. Alferness wouldn’t go into detail on what parameters Google is using to create each ad unit’s outer-edge buffer, such as whether it’s a fixed-pixel size or varies in proporition to each in-app mobile ad unit. “I’m being cagey about the specifics as it’s something we’re holding tighter to the chest because it’s likely to change or adapt as need be,” he said.

A company blog post announcing the new confirmed clicks claims that tests of the feature proved better conversion rates when users did click but lower clicks, which isn’t surprising since Google’s not counting clicks subsequently deemed accidental. However Alferness wouldn’t disclose specific performance rates, attributing his inability to delve into specific numbers to Google being in a quiet period ahead of its next quarterly earnings report.

With mobile text ads and now mobile image ads covered, Alferness said that mobile ad format Google needs to tackle is rich-media ads. Google’s dilemma there is that rich media ads are sually created by outside creative service agencies, so Google would need to find a way to dig into the ads’ source code. Luckily for Google, Alferness said, “it’s still early days for rich media [ads] in [mobile] apps.”

Confirmed clicks are only rolling out to in-app mobile image ads running on smartphones, but Alferness said bringing the feature to tablets is on the table. “It’s something we’re certainly exploring. In general if it’s a problem on tablets, it’s likely much less so than we see on mobile phones,” he said, chalking up the difference the larger screens being less problematic for fat fingers.

With the size of smartphone screens growing and tablet screens shrinking, Google and the mobile ad industry as a whole will have a hard time differentiating between the two device types, Alferness acknowledged, adding that the idea would be not to think separately between how to market to users on smartphones versus tablets. Until then Google can recognize a specific device and treat it accordingly. For example Google is treating Samsung’s behemoth Galaxy Note smartphone/tablet hybrid as a smartphone with respect to confirmed clicks, he said.