Retargeter Blog

How View-Through Conversions Got A Bad Rap

Just as you wouldn’t immediately exit the freeway upon seeing an enticing billboard, you don’t always visit a website immediately after seeing its banner ad. Whether we’re out and about the town or browsing the web, we’re not always prepared to stop what we’re doing in order to respond to the ads we see.

Advertisements are seldom meant to influence immediate purchasing decisions. Late-night infomercials notwithstanding (limited time offer, call now!), most advertisements are geared toward influencing consumer behavior at some point in the future, not in the present. But how do we know whether seeing an advertisement led somebody to make a purchase later?

Measuring view-through conversions is one way to quantify the impact of these kinds of ads. The view-through conversion takes into account that some ads don’t trigger immediate buying decisions, but can nonetheless influence people to make purchases later. By providing information on conversions that occur after a user sees an ad, view-through conversions offer a glimpse into the full impact of an ad beyond just click data.

Yet the view-through conversion is one of the most misunderstood metrics in online advertising. While it was initially received with enthusiasm by ad professionals seeking richer data on campaign performance, view-through conversions have since been maligned as misleading and inconsequential by some critics. Unfortunately, advertisers who ignore view-through conversions and the insights they provide are depriving themselves of a useful tool for measuring the effectiveness of their ads and the value of their ad placements.

How did view-through conversions gain such a bad reputation?

Google began offering view-through conversion statistics in September 2009. The data was heralded as a way to measure the impact of unclicked ads and gauge the value of ad placements. But Google made a crucial error in its implementation, one that has plagued the discussion surrounding view-through conversions ever since. In order to properly attribute conversions to display impressions, one must establish a time window for view-through conversions. This window determines which conversions resulted from an ad impression, and which conversions came about without any ads being shown. This ensures that proper credit is given where it’s due, helping advertisers understand which of their sales resulted from ad impressions and which occurred organically.

Google, however, set the default view-through conversion window to thirty days—any conversion that occurred within a month of somebody seeing an ad was counted as a view-through conversion. Understandably, this caused a major stir within the advertising community. How could one possibly know if a purchase made on March 20 actually stemmed from an ad somebody saw on February 25? Who’s to say that the customer hadn’t made up their mind independently of the ad and was going to buy the product anyway?

With a conversion window this wide, the number of view-through conversions shown for Google ads are artificially inflated, thus casting doubt on the value of the metric as a whole. Advertising experts began to doubt that view-through data was worth examining, and clients became wary of accepting view-through conversions as a valid benchmark of a campaign’s performance.

Google’s thirty day default window is far too wide to yield useful information on how well your ads are performing; the longer the window, the harder it becomes to credit a conversion to an ad impression. A one-day conversion window—which is the default for ReTargeter campaigns—is far more useful. By only counting conversions that occur within 24 hour of an ad impression, a one-day window can help weed out the false positives while still capturing vital data on how ads are influencing purchasing decisions, even if those decision were not made at the exact time the ads were shown.

Benefits of a 24-hour View-Through Window

With a short conversion window, advertisers can focus on the unique insights provided by view-through conversions, instead of worrying whether the statistics have been artificially inflated. Specifically, view-through conversions can help gauge the following:

  1. The stickiness of your ads. An ad that gets you to click on it right away is eye-catching; an ad influences you to make a purchase hours later is memorable. You can determine the “stickiness” of your ads by conducting A/B tests and keeping track of which ads have the highest view-through conversion rate.
  2. The quality of your ad placements. Imagine if you have two identical ads running on two separate websites, and each produces the exact same click-through conversion rate but different view-through conversion rates. Whichever site has the higher view-through conversion rate would also likely have a higher concentration of your target audience, allowing you to fine-tune your placements for maximum impact.
  3. Your audience’s shopping habits. Different products have different purchase cycle—shoppers are likely to spend more time choosing a home theater system than they would a dishwashing detergent.
    View-through conversions can illuminate these varying habits by showing you how many people buy at the spur of the moment (click through conversions), versus people who wait before they buy (view-through conversions). In tandem with data on dayparting, you can get a fairly clear picture of how your target market buys your products and when they’re likely to do it.

Like all metrics, view-through conversions have the potential to be misinterpreted and misused. Yet by carefully considering the actual meaning behind the numbers, and taking care to set a reasonable conversion window, you can leverage view-through conversions to gain a deeper understanding of your ads, your placements, and your customers.

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