Are Google AdWords Content Network View-Through Conversions Real?

November 2, 2009:

view through conversions

On Sep 30, 2009 Google announced a new AdWords reporting feature that measures conversions for display ads in the Content Network (display ads are image-based or rich media ads only – not text ads).

When I first saw this I was excited because it provides an extra level of measurement that was missing.

view through conversion sample from adwords

Many ad networks have had this metric available to advertisers for some time.

In paid search, a “conversion” is typically measured when a user clicks on an ad and completes an action on your site that you have set up for tracking (e.g. purchases, contact forms, etc.).  The visitor does not necessarily have to complete the action on that first visit.  A cookie is set, usually for 30 days, and if the user returns (using the same computer) and completes the action before the cookie expires, the action is counted as a conversion.

A view-through conversion works on a similar premise – a user sees the ad, goes to the site, and has 30 days to take an action in order to be counted as a conversion.  The difference here is that the user “sees” the ad, and has not clicked on the ad.  In Google AdWords, if a user does click on the ad, then the conversion is only counted as a “click” conversion (and, hopefully, never counted twice).

In Sep 2007 Kevin Lee, of Didit, wrote a great article about view through conversions and ad networks.  In that article, Kevin did an excellent job of laying out how you might properly use this metric in evaluating success of an ad campaign.

View-through conversions are an excellent way to evaluate the effectiveness of the ad creative versions you are using.  Serve up multiple versions of a display ad (A/B or even multiple, simultaneous ads), and see which ads receive the best combination of click conversions and view-through conversions.

Here are some current issues with view-through conversions in Google AdWords:

1) Cookies – As with any search engine advertising, the tracking is only as good as you set it up, and only as good as the user “allows” the activity to be tracked (e.g. the user deletes cookies, sees the ad on one computer and converts on another computer, tells a colleague what they saw and the colleague converts after going directly to the site, etc.)  This is not an issue that is specific only to view-through conversions, but worth mentioning at the top.

2) Accountability - Search advertisers love the fact that paid search is so accountable.  It’s the purist form of direct marketing out there.  But, with view-through conversions you may actually see the conversion in more than one place.  For example, a user sees the ad and then goes to a search engine and searches for the website and/or company name/brand.  In an analytics package this would look like an organic search conversion.  Or, if the user simply types the website address into their browser and converts on the site, that looks like a Direct Traffic conversion.  However, in Google AdWords the credit was given to the display ad.

3) e-Commerce - Issue #2 above becomes even more of a thorn in the analyst’s side when there is e-commerce revenue being tracked.  For example, we have a client now who is engaged in B2B e-commerce.  Google Analytics measures e-commerce revenue for the client.  But, Google Analytics does not measure e-commerce revenue for view-through conversions!!!! (I have been told by someone at Google that there are no plans to integrate e-commerce tracking and view-through conversions in Google Analytics).

If we spend $1,000 in click charges and receive only $2,000 in revenue from the click conversions that are measured, then not only is the campaign disappointing, but we are missing the true ROI measurement here.

If we had an additional 12 view-through conversions, how much revenue should be credited to the campaign?  At the moment, the only option we have is to take the average revenue per transaction for that campaign and multiply it by 12 (the number of conversions).  But, what if there was a significant, large order?  Or what if the orders from this user audience are much smaller than average?

This becomes an issue of “faith”.  Even if the click conversions are not paying for themselves, we have to have faith that the view-through conversions added enough revenue to justify the PPC spend.

4) Identifying Domains - Google AdWords currently only reports on view-through conversions for specific domains/URLs if the conversions occur within a Managed Placement.  Data for view-through conversions in Automatic Placements are not currently available from Google.

I have been told that Google does plan on making view-through conversion reporting availale for Automatic Placements “soon.”

In the meantime, without this information, how can you make intelligent decisions about which sites in the Content Network to target for Managed Placements, bid more on, exclude, etc.?

All of these issues lend themselves to  my question – “Are Content Network View-Through Conversions Real?”

As Kevin Lee suggests in his 2007 article, use the information to inform strategic decisions about creative ad versions and the effectiveness of a particular network of sites.

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