Whose Conversion is it Anyways?

Paid search marketers love to track everything – sales, geography, demographics, time of day – if we can measure it, we want the data! Data, however, can sometimes lead us to make wrong decisions, especially if that data is easy to misunderstand. To quote Mark Twain, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I’ve recently noticed an alarming trend whereby marketing partners are stretching the truth in an effort to give themselves too much credit for my conversions. The primary culprit of this “conversion land grab” is the concept of “view-through” conversions. Most people are familiar with “click-through” conversions – when someone clicks on your PPC ad and converts on your Web site, you count that user (and the keyword they rode in on) as a conversion.

A view-through, on the other hand, occurs when a user simply lands on a page where your ad was served. They never actually click on your ad, but – the theory goes – because they saw your ad, if they later convert on your site, the ad should get some credit for this conversion.

In theory, this isn’t an absolutely ridiculous metric, because we know that people respond to brand advertising on TV or billboards, and that this sort of advertising can drive sales. The problem with view-through conversions, however, is two-fold. First, most paid search advertisers don’t know the difference between a view-through and a click-through and thus don’t know how to value each. For example, did you know that your view-through conversions on Google include “views” of ads that are below the fold (require scrolling), whether a user actually scrolled below the first page or not? That’s like having a billboard facing one way on a highway but counting all the cars that go by in both directions!

Second, the reporting from many marketing partners completely muddles the distinction between a view-through and a click-through. Facebook’s reporting, for example, gives users a high level “Advertising Performance Report” but makes no mention of the fact that the conversions listed in this report are both view-through and click-through data. And Facebook’s misleading reporting pales in comparison to standard practices in the display (banner ad) space. As PPC and display ads become more and more intertwined, search marketers will need to tread cautiously into this new category.

Josh McFarland, CEO of TellApart, recently provided a scathing critique of rampant view-through counting in the display space, in particular with respect to “retargeting” (which Google AdWords calls “remarketing”):

“We all agree online advertising needs a more comprehensive metric than the click.  But the view-through (or post-impression) conversion is not it — especially for your retargeting campaigns.  In fact, if you’re being billed for view-through conversions from your current provider, you are massively overpaying for events which were going to happen anyway.”

My advice – at least for now – is simple: ignore the view-through, the multiple-conversions-per-click, and anything else that looks like an attempt by a search engine to give itself more credit. Over time, we’ll all figure out a way to give some credit to these non-click-through metrics, but until there are established standards and clearer explanations, it’s best to err on the side of caution!

David Rodnitzky is Founder of PPC Associates, a leading SEM agency in San Francisco. To learn more about full service AdWords management from PPC Associates, contact David at david@ppcassociates.com.

Posted by admin in Customer Conversions, Facebook, Google AdWords, Internet Marketing, Paid Search, Pay Per Click, Search Engine Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, social media on October 7,2010

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An excellent article, I totally agree with your observations.

For me, there are only two metrics that really matter which are conversions and the cost of those conversions.

Forget about fuzzy conversions that may or may not come indirectly from the marketing provider. Judge the success of any advertising efforts only on the hard facts I say!

Thanks Adrian. Fuzzy always equals bad in online marketing in my opinion. – David

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