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Illustration Lazaro Gamio / Axios

For the past 10 years, we've operated on the premise that the most important digital metric is the click that refers a person to a website. That click usually comes from a social distribution channel, like Facebook or Twitter, or a search engine, like Google or Bing. But according to industry experts, the click referral is becoming an idea of the past, soon to be replaced by content exposure.

Why it matters: Most publishers have designed their websites to measure user interaction through clicks, not scroll rates or time spent on stories. As the industry moves away from click-through rates (CTR's) as the most meaningful marketing metric, those publishers will have a difficult time justifying the effectiveness of their platforms for marketers.

How did we get here? When AT&T created the first banner ad in 1994, the ad had about a 44% CTR, according to a report by AdRoll. That's around 40x higher than the average banner CTR today. Two factors have led to the decline in clicking:

  1. New web formats, used by apps like Facebook and Twitter, that replace clicking navigation with passive scrolling navigation.
  2. A saturated digital ecosystem that makes users feel lost if they click out of the window or app that they're in (Hence the introduction of in-platform news formats, like Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover).

Who's to blame? Using click referrals as the most successful marketing metric was largely influenced by a free click referral measuring tool created in 2005 called Google Analytics. The tool was built to attribute successful marketing campaigns around referral clicks because referral clicks often come from Google Search, which Google monetizes.

What's next? "Clicks look like a high-performing tactic, but a lot of work is done to get you to type something into a search bar to begin with," AdRoll President Adam Berke tells Axios. Marketers are starting to attribute marketing success towards content exposure that drives you to click something, instead of the click itself. Two key formats increase content exposure: video and passive scrolling. Google and Facebook are investing heavily in products that embody these formats: YouTube and Instagram.

Go deeper

Australia opposes UN report warning Great Barrier Reef is "in danger"

A green sea turtle swimming among the corals at Lady Elliot island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Great Barrier Reef should be included in a list of World Heritage Sites that are "in danger" from climate change, a United Nations committee said in a report Tuesday.

Yes, but: Australia's government said it will "strongly oppose" the recommendation by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema: Abolishing filibuster would weaken "democracy's guardrails"

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema at the U.S. Capitol building earlier this month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) defended her opposition to abolishing the 60-vote legislative filibuster in a Washington Post op-ed published Monday night, saying to do so would weaken "democracy's guardrails."

Why it matters: There have been growing calls from Democrats, particularly progressives, to overhaul the rules as the Senate prepares to vote Tuesday on Democrats' massive voting rights package. But Sinema writes in her op-ed that if this were to happen "we will lose much more than we gain."

Court blocks California assault weapons ban repeal

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Monday blocked a judge's ruling that overturned California's 30-year assault weapons ban.

Driving the news: U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez ruled earlier this month that the ban was unconstitutional and likened the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has now granted a stay, pending appeal.