Killing the Click

Moat measures engagement by tracking 'mouse hovering'

What was once digital advertising’s dirty little secret is now its big, ugly problem. Online ad performance figures are dismal: less than 1 percent of Web surfers click on display ads, brand dollars have yet to shift online proportionate to usage, and no one can agree on how exactly to measure ad impressions.

But 17 years into the advent of online advertising, the problem has been identified, and there's no shortage of market operators grasping at a solution (see: IAB, CIMM).

Today Moat, a New York-based startup focusing on a new engagement currency, launched its “No Clicks Campaign,” a heat map-focused analytics service that seeks to eliminate engagement rates measured in clicks altogether.

The idea is that direct marketers care about click-throughs, brand marketers do not. Moat attempts to resolve that tension by tracking “mouse hovering” over an ad, which the company believes serves as a proxy for attention. “Most of us don’t click on ads, but we certainly notice them,” Moat co-CEO and co-founder Jonah Goodhart said. "There are studies that show we look where we move our mouse. You have to, otherwise you're not moving it." In one sample of 100 million impressions, Moat found that 0.1 percent of users clicked, 10 percent moused over the ad, and 3 percent dragged their mouse over the ad for a meaningful amount of time.

Moat’s heat-mapping technology aggregates and visualizes where users have moused over an ad and for how long (see demo here). Goodhart said the data helps advertisers better understand which parts of their ad users engaged with, and how intensely. Simple, easy-to-absorb messages show densely packed areas of mouse-over in key areas. Confusing ads with an unclear message return dispersed areas of heat. It may not be perfect—consumers who mouse hover may still be banner blind, or users may click most intensely on the “X” in an attempt to close an expandable ad—but it’s an improvement. Everyone can at least agree on one thing: They sure as hell aren’t clicking through.

Or maybe it’s just another way to lure brand advertisers onto the Web with data. The launch of Moat’s “No Clicks Campaign” comes as analytics competitor RealVu on Monday revealed its first partnership with agency Horizon Media. RealVu attempts to solve the same measurement problem, but for display ad impressions. The company’s ad technology measures the seconds a user is actually exposed to an ad, but from the user’s point of view and not the publisher's. (There are many reasons an ad may be called from the publisher side but not seen by the user—blockers, incompatible browsers, and mobile devices that can't actually display an ad are just a few.) 

Moat’s “No Clicks Campaign” product launch is concurrent with a $1.5 million round of financing from Ron Conway’s SV Angels, Founders Fund, First Round Capital, Vast Ventures, Lerer Ventures, and Founder Collective. Goodhart called the investment a “friends and family” round, which tops off a prior $3 million seed round from its founders.

Founded by alumni of ad network Right Media, Moat started out as an ad search engine, allowing agencies and clients to Google the placement of display ads. That tool is useful to industry insiders. Brands can easily find where they’ve advertised and where their competitors are buying Web real estate. “Everyone in the display ecosystem is using this engine,” Goodhart said.

Now the company offers a full suite of analytics centered on its heat-mapping technology. Clients like Microsoft, Kodak, and BlackBerry, as well as agencies like StrawberryFrog and Droga5 have signed on.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct percentage figure for "meaningful mouseovers" as 3 percent. A previous version incorrectly quoted the figure at 20 percent.