View-through conversions (also called post-impression conversions) are when a person is exposed to a display ad, does not click, but goes on later to visit your website and convert.
In the world of search marketing, this is a somewhat foreign concept, as search marketers tend to live and die by the click. Search, by its very nature, has a pre-qualified audience based on their intent to seek out information. Clicks from search ads connect your brand with a sought after need.
Display advertising, on the other hand, is much more driven by influence. As a marketer, the best we can do is reach the right type of person, preferably in the time and location where they’re most likely to engage with our brand. Even when all those factors fall into place, a person is still only connected when an impression is served and your target is compelled by what they see to take some action. In display advertising, the impression still reigns king.
How do we value a view-through conversion?
In concept, we can accept that impressions are influential. But for years we, search marketers, have been held to strict ROI and CPA goals, with every action having a clearly defined cost and value. We have been conditioned. So what are we supposed to believe when we see numbers like this?
Amazing, or smoke and mirrors?
Unfortunately, numbers that drastic are difficult to accept, and are often dismissed entirely. Giving no credit to a view-through conversion is not fair, though, as there have been countless studies to show that lift and influence are very real.
We also can’t rightly give VT conversions 100% value. Especially when utilizing remarketing (compared to other forms of display targeting), many of your ads will undoubtedly serve to consumers who would have already converted without the added influence. Ads will also serve impressions that go un-seen (below the fold), but in the eyes of the algorithms a conversion is still valid. These facts make it abundantly clear why VT conversions are so inflated.
So what’s the true value? Somewhere in between.
Finding your proper value
Unfortunately there’s no cookie cutter answer that can be applied to every campaign, but we can perform some tests to find out what is right for you.
Reduce your lookback window
Logic tells us that the longer the gap between an ad being served and an action being taken, the less likely the ad actually influenced a decision. Most display settings (Google or otherwise) naturally default to a 30 day lookback window! Drop your lookback window to 1 or 2 days. This will give you a much clearer picture of ads that actually influence behavior.
Once your settings are properly configured, the real analysis can begin.
The PSA Test
A PSA Test (Public Service Announcement) splits your audience into a control (PSA) and test (Branded ads) to compare how many conversions occur across each. The control group, a PSA ad, will have no influence on your audience. It also will likely continue to convert, based on the criteria we described before. Your normal Branded ads will also continue to convert, likely at an even higher rate as you are reminding visitors of your brand and guiding them to take action. That ratio will be our modifier to properly weight view-throughs.
- Segment your audience to create two equal lists that do not overlap.
- Your first campaign will use your Branded ads, while the second campaign will use PSA control ads.
- Allow your ads to run for a sufficient amount of time to collect enough data. Remember, we’ve recommended a 1-2 day lookback window, but if you’re still set to 7 days or more, you’ll have to run this test for a minimum of a week to allow for proper collection.
- Normalize your data and compare results:
Let’s take a look with some real numbers to better understand
To normalize the data, we multiply the PSA campaign results by 1.25, leaving us with:
Weighted VTC = (100 – 90) / 100 = 10%
What this tells us is that only 1 in 10 view-through conversions actually influenced someone into taking action. So is that good? Well looking at our results from before, we had nearly 10x as many view-through conversions as we did click-through conversions, so even at just 10% weight, this would actually still be pretty significant. Your percentages will vary from this example, of course, based on your audience, settings, and creatives. With such a test you can finally get a real understanding of just how effective your display ads truly are.