Impressions are powerful. That’s one reason that in 2009, Google Ads introduced view-through conversions (VTCs) tracking and why the Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN) now offers them too. A VTC is when a buyer sees an ad, for example on the Google Display Network (GDN). The buyer doesn’t convert directly from the ad itself, but goes back and makes a purchase later. A VTC is also called a view-based conversion.
For me, display ads are very powerful tools. Up to 95% of purchases for Finch clients can be tied to a view-through conversion.1 That means 95% of converting customers saw a display ad before converting directly or from an organic search and only 5% converted without first seeing a display ad. Put another way, 95% of click-based conversions are preceded by ad impressions.
But what exactly qualifies as a view-through conversion, why do they matter to digital marketers, and how can we get the most out of them?
Just What Is a View-Through Conversion?
What does and doesn’t qualify as a view-through conversion is simple, once you know the details. The ability to track VTCs is typically limited to display networks, including the Google Display Network (which includes Youtube videos and is part of Google Ads), the Microsoft Audience Network, and demand-side platforms (DSPs).
You can’t track VTCs in Google Analytics. By default, Google Analytics attributes source/med of the transaction to the last click. So it only attributes a conversion to display traffic when a user clicks the ad. It doesn’t attribute display traffic when a user sees an ad and then later visits the website directly. Post-impression display traffic is labeled as “Direct” traffic. Hence the value and contribution of the display ad are lost in Google Analytics reporting.
VTCs are not direct though. A view-through conversion happens when someone sees a display ad for your product and then makes a purchase either by going directly to your website or by doing an organic search separately and within the lookback window.
For a VTC to count, no other trackable event can happen between those two points. If, for instance, someone sees the display ad and then clicks a paid search ad to make a purchase, the purchase isn’t attributed to the impression of the display ad but the to search ad — it’s not a view-through conversion. That doesn’t mean the display ad didn’t contribute to the purchase. It simply means we don’t track its contribution. Google Ads used to track a VTC when another ad was seen before the conversion, but no longer does.
Also, if someone converts directly on your display ad, that’s not counted as a view-through conversion, but as a click-through conversion.
It’s the lack of direct attribution that makes VTCs an often-neglected data point.
Why Marketers Neglect View-Through Conversions
As digital marketers in the eCommerce arena, we want to see results. Results for us are clicks and therefore sales. Our results-driven natures make it easy to dismiss the value of the impressions that lead up to a final click or conversion. That value is often hard to sell to our managers too.
Nonetheless, VTCs are critical tools in the digital marketing toolbox and offer a lot of value to digital marketers and to ultimately driving conversions.
The Value of View-Through Conversions
VTCs give digital marketers valuable data and the ability to drive brand awareness and conversions.
The Value of VTCs in Driving Brand Awareness
Display is a visual medium. Our goal should always be to have an ad that’s so enticing, somebody wants to click to buy immediately. But, we can’t dismiss the value of a prospect being surrounded by our imagery, our product, and our brand. That has a value and should also be tracked, which is exactly what VTCs do for us.
The age-old rule of seven tells us that buyers need to see our ads multiple times before converting.
Think about someone seeing something on Facebook. She then goes to Google and does a quick search, but doesn’t yet make a purchase. She might then be back on Facebook, see another ad for the item, only later be thinking of making a purchase. Multiple iterations typically occur before someone is thinking about making a purchase — that’s our customer journey.
Those multiple touchpoints build brand awareness and consideration in the upper part of our customer funnel. So that later, when a customer is thinking about buying a product you sell or sees another one of your ads, he or she knows who you are, recognizes your company or brand name, and considers purchasing from you.
Those touchpoints and the journey through your funnel are hard to track but highly valuable. VTCs let us track those touchpoints and their value.
The Value of VTCs in Driving Conversions and Revenue
At the middle or bottom of your funnel, when a shopper clicks on a paid search ad and buys your product, you know the ad is working — you see the conversion, attribution is direct.
A view-through conversion also tells you that your ad is working just not quite as directly. When one display ad has more VTCs than another ad, you know it’s the better-targeted ad.
You can A/B test different creatives to see which lead to higher VTCs and find the highest performing ads. You can test the same ad in different placements and discover which placements lead to higher VTCs and therefore perform better with your target audiences.
Knowing which display ads are performing best, can also help you optimize other channels (think of testing your display heading in a search ad), and ultimately drive conversions, and revenue.
About Lookback Windows
Deriving needed data from VTCs gets tricky as you cross platforms, such as when you want to capture Facebook advertising data alongside your GDN, MSAN, and/or DSP data. The available lookback window — the length of time passed between the impression and the conversion — varies by platform.
Google Ads’ lookback window (also called an attribution window) is 30 days. Microsoft Audience Network’s default lookback window is one day as is Facebook’s. You can change your lookback window for Google Ads and the Microsoft Audience Network, but not Facebook.
A solution like the Finch Advertising Management Platform makes cross-platform reporting a breeze by bringing data from different platforms into a single tool and dashboard and letting you see that data for one consistent timeframe. With Finch, we can look at each channel or platform individually or in aggregate by data point, such as VTCs, across all platforms.
Finch Insights Reporting shows conversions and view-through conversions in summary and chart formats.
My Recommendations on View-Through Conversion Tracking and Lookback Windows
What I’m recommending to clients is to not look at a 30-day lookback window or a one- or two-day window, but to look at a 7-day lookback window. Granted, that varies based on the customer, type of campaign, and the client’s unique sales cycle. Generally though, for eCommerce brands and companies, 7-days is my recommended lookback window.
I find that a window shorter than 30 days, but longer than a single day or two, gives me more precise data. I’m not convinced that an impression 30 days ago led to a conversion and I don’t want to wait that long to use data to optimize ads.
For the ads we run, most people convert within a two- or three- day period. On ads for Finch clients, most people also convert within 8 exposures to an ad.
Using a 7-day window lets me collect more data about converters that would otherwise be lost. I appreciate that some people may find it hard to accept that after 7 days someone would convert due to an impression.
In addition to a 7-day lookback window, I’m also giving a specific value to a view-through conversion. I’m saying that a view-through conversion should be worth 50% in attribution of the resulting conversion. Doing that acknowledges the impact a display ad has on someone’s customer journey and that the impression — while valuable — doesn’t equate to a whole conversion. I can do that within a DSP environment, which is extremely helpful.
I still realize that that last view may have been the fifth view of the ad, but am recognizing that it was that last view and that ad that led to the conversion.
It’s my way, Finch’s way, of being honest and upfront, and recognizing that view-based conversions have value and showing that value. Google Analytics can’t and never will be able to track that; there’s no workaround. I’ve found that it works well for Finch clients. That, and working with Finch, of course.
1 Based on internal data from Finch clients’ advertising campaign data.