What They Are
A view-through conversion is a measure of the number of online conversions that users complete after they see—but do not click—a display ad on a website.
How They Work
How a view-through conversion is tracked, recorded and analyzed will affect your conclusions about the effectiveness of your ads. Here are some things to keep in mind when collecting and analyzing them.
- Conversion Tracking Implementation. You need to have conversion tracking implemented in order to get view-through conversion statistics. Google Analytics goals aren’t compatible with view-through conversion reporting, so if you want to see view-throughs in AdWords for those conversion goals, you must collect that goal as a conversion within the AdWords system.
- VTC Collection. They are recorded for the date of the last associated impression before the conversion. This means if the impression occurs 28 days before the conversion, you will have go back at least 28 days before the last-click conversion to be able to see the view-through conversion.
- De-Duplication. If your display vendor has a search de-duplication feature, it will not count a view-through conversion if there was a paid ad clicked after the associated impression. I personally don’t like this because I would like to see which ads may have influenced conversions through ANY channel. When reporting to clients, I will keep the search and display networks separate anyway, since they are so different.
- Text Ads. View-through conversions are not reported for search campaigns or for text creatives in content campaigns.
- VTC Window. By default, view-through tracking windows are set to 30 days. But, you are able to customize this based on your product or service. Products or services that have short purchase consideration cycles are good candidates for shorter windows, while products with longer cycles are more appropriate for keeping the setting at the default 30 days.
Pros and Cons of Using Them
There are pros and cons to keep in mind when you’re looking at view-through conversions as a stand-alone metric for the performance of your display ads, which should affect how you analyze and optimize your campaigns.
- You gain a better picture of performance. People are on content sites to consume content, not to complete the desired action of your ad. But, this doesn’t mean the ad doesn’t influence them. Using VTC’s helps you to better optimize for where your ads have the best influence on driving your desired actions at future points in time.
- You save on click costs. If a customer is influenced by your offer to convert, but doesn’t click on your ad, you saved the cost of the click while still gaining the conversion.
- Did the ad influence the conversion? You really don’t know. Visitors may not notice, or not even see the ad (if it showed below the fold, and they didn’t scroll).
- They are limited by the VTC window. For example, AdWords only counts view-through conversions up to 30 days after the ad impression. If your ad has an influence on a conversion that happens after that, it isn’t recorded.
- Tracking isn’t precise. People can delete their cookies or complete the call to action from another device that doesn’t have the cookie attached.
Measuring Their Impact
We know advertising has influence. That’s why we see so much of it on a daily basis.
But, it’s very important that we do the best we can to give the right amount of credit where credit is due. This way, we know how to optimize campaigns and budgets to get the maximum impact possible.
The big issue with view-through conversion tracking is the level of transparency they bring for communicating what’s really going on. The reason this is such a big issue is that many agencies and vendors have practiced over-attribution of credit to them in the past. Or they’ve manipulated ad placement in ways that benefit the numbers they ultimately report. For an extreme example, a vendor could report to you 100 view-through conversions. But, if you dig deeper, you find that all of the ad impressions were below-the-fold of the page, came at a dirt-cheap price and were never seen by the audience. The vendor just happened to place your ad on a site where your audience frequents, and VTCs were recorded when the audience found you in other ways and converted.
This is what makes measuring the impact of VTCs on other marketing channels that ultimately get credited with last-click conversions so hard. It’s also why you can’t count VTCs as actual conversions. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t count them at all. You just shouldn’t count them the same. It’s misleading. Instead, you should measure the influence they have on your conversion activity. The difference is that you don’t give them as much value as a conversion, but you give them some value because they were a part of the sales funnel. How much value you give them depends on a lot of factors. But, once you establish this value, you have a great guide that will protect you from overpaying for your ads and enable you to better optimize for maximum effectiveness moving forward.
If you use view-through conversions in this way, they are a valid and wonderful metric. In fact, they become an even more reliable metric than clicks or conversions. This is because the majority of Internet users won’t even click ads on content sites because they’re not actively looking. Clicks and conversions typically fit the search world, but not the display world. Display is not there to fulfill a desire. It’s there to create it.
Testing Their Impact
So, the question remains, how much of an impact are my ads having on my site’s last-click conversions? I’ll leave you with one way to get a good sense: Do an A/B test of your ad against a public service announcement. Would the customers have come to your site and converted anyway? If you run this kind of a test, the results should give you a great idea of the incremental impact your ads are having on your business.