Measuring Exit Clicks

Counting exit clicks (a traditional index of failure) as a success metric might seem to require some kind of mental leap. But if you regard exit clicks correctly, you may find that they can inform your campaigns in unique ways. This article was originally published on on March 6, 2009, but it remains current because too few PPC search advertisers correctly reckon the importance of exit clicks.

Search visitors don’t stay around forever. One way or another, they’ll eventually leave your site. There are a limited number of ways a search visitor leaves your site, and (depending on your business) one or more of those exit paths may be a positive one worthy not only of measurement but also of being an objective of your paid search campaign. Exit click percentages on particular pages can also tell a story of the relative merit to a visitor of staying versus leaving.

So what happens to search visitors (or other visitors for that matter) when they exit your site?

  • Searchers hit the “back” button. The dreaded “back” button is the worst way to lose a search visitor to your site, even if you are a publisher whose sole revenue source is display advertising. Whether you paid for a visitor or she arrived as a result of organic SEO (define), other marketing, PR, buzz, or serendipity, it’s a shame to lose an opportunity to engage that visitor unless your business is truly irrelevant to her. For search marketers, the most aggravating thing about a back-click is that in many cases the search engine results page waiting for the searcher when she back-clicks is loaded with competitors’ listings. Google’s analytics program and others call this “back” button off the initial landing page the bounce rate.”
  • Exit clicks occur when searchers move forward through links you’ve provided to other sites. These links to other sites are there for a reason. That reason may vary based on the industry, site type, or even where the page resides within a site. Not all exit clicks need to be measured. However if there are exit paths you’d like to have data on, it makes sense to use some form of measurement. The two most common are a redirect (typically something called a temporary redirect or a 302 redirect (define), which routs the click through a click-counting system) and a JavaScript implementation that works on most browsers and reports on the click simultaneously with the click action without redirecting the click. In both instances an exit click could hypothetically leave your site behind, because many link types allow for the spawning of a new browser window.
  • Searchers transact with you either by placing an order or registering (converting to a lead). Once they reach your thank-you page, they may navigate out via an exit click.
  • Searchers close the browser (or browser window) with your site loaded, whether or not they’ve engaged in a transaction or have registered, navigating away using the URL bar, a search toolbar, bookmarks, or other means. Google Analytics calls this exit behavior the exit percentage or exit rate.

Because exit clicks are clicks from your site to some external site page that you’ve selected, an exit click can often be included as a success metric for a campaign. Exit clicks, therefore, are an important measurement and may be defined as the primary or secondary success objectives of your paid search campaign.

Some publishers sell advertising on a per-click basis, one reason exit clicks are so important. A publisher may be buying paid search clicks (or image-ad banner-based clicks) as well as selling search clicks to other marketers. Called arbitrage or click arbitrage, this is quite challenging to do. That’s because if the landing page is relevant to a keyword, one would need an exit click rate of nearly 100 percent, assuming one was charging a bit more than one was paying for clicks. Several years ago, there was a wave of “made for AdSense” sites that used the large difference between CPCs (define) for top positions and bottom positions to make arbitrage work, but most of those sites got caught in the Google Quality Score changes.

Publishers, however, aren’t the only paid search advertisers seeking to measure and optimize around exit clicks. Manufacturers often list their retail partners on a “how to buy” or “where to buy” section of their sites. Similarly, distributors and financial services companies supporting a distribution channel may send clicks to trading partners as part of their natural mode of doing business. There are often reasons you might want to count or measure these kinds of exit clicks in much the same way that a publishing site charging for clicks does. You may want to show evidence to your distribution or sales channel that you are sending over clicks that should turn into leads and sales for both of you. You may be interested to see clicks to a parent company, a subsidiary, a press release, an investor relations site, or even to an industry association.

If positive exit clicks are a success metric, you should put a method for tracking them in place at the individual session level.