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Facebook wants to solve advertising's 'fat thumbs' problem

With research suggesting that over half of all clicks on mobile ads are mistaken, Facebook has today (8 August) announced an initiative designed to limit the likelihood of users clicking on ad units unintentionally.

The update to its Facebook Audience Network includes policy clarifications on unintentional clicks, product changes to invalidate them, and proactively pausing implementations that exhibit abnormal click behavior, according to the online giant.

Brett Vogel, Facebook, product marketing manager, made the announcement in a blog post where he outlined some of the activities he had planned, adding that “ad placements that are built to drive unintentional clicks run counter” to its goal of creating a healthy advertising ecosystem.

For instance, Facebook will measure the amount of time a user spends on an ad unit – or “drop off rates” – to assess whether-or-not a user has intentionally clicked on that ad.

“We found that people who click on an Audience Network ad and spend less than two-seconds on a destination page almost always clicked accidentally. Moving forward, we will no longer count clicks categorized as unintentional. We will continually refine and adjust this threshold as we gather more data and signals,” reads the post.

The transparency initiative will also include using its analytics systems to detect “inflated clickthrough rates” to assess if publishers have created ad placements that deliver value to advertisers.

“When we see abnormal behavior, such as an inflated (CTR), we'll automatically pause placements to protect people and advertisers. We'll also inform publishers so they can make necessary changes,” added Vogel.

To clarify the updates in its policies, Facebook has provided a best practice guide where publishers using its third-party ad network (Facebook Audience Network) to sell their inventory can keep abreast of the updates.

“Going forward, we'll be experimenting with more ways to reduce the number of unintentional clicks by looking further into bounce rates, additional metrics, and trying to prevent users from accidentally clicking in the first place,” reads the post.

Research published last year claimed that over 60% of clicks on mobile display ads are accidental, with 'fat thumbs' identified as the prime culprit.

The study, polled 500 adult mobile users across the US between January 18 to 25, 2016, and focused on several aspects of mobile banner ad engagement. 69% of those surveyed identified at least one occasion where they had clicked on a mobile banner ad (within mobile web or app).

Meanwhile, 60% said that they typically click on banner ads while on a smartphone or tablet, and 'it’s usually by accident' due to the device’s small screen size. A mere 16% claimed they click on mobile banner ads because they 'like the company, product or service being promoted'. The research also found that even less of those surveyed (13%) said they do so because 'the ads are interesting.'