Can We Trust View-Through Conversions? An Experiment Reveals!

Because display ads tend to have low conversion rates, many advertisers (or their clients) are quick to question their effectiveness and profitability.

The truth is, display ads can have a strong positive impact on your conversion rates—but oftentimes indirectly, making it hard to track or measure.

One metric designed to help us out with that is view-through conversions. Even still, many question the validity of this metric. Can we trust it? In this post, we’re going to cover

  • What view-through conversions are.
  • An interesting experiment conducted to test their validity.
  • Tips on how to track and use this metric.

What is a view-through conversion?

To understand this PPC metric, it’s best to first define a direct conversion (or click-through conversion). If a user sees your ad, clicks on it, and follows through with obtaining the offer, this is called a direct conversion.

A view-through conversion, on the other hand, happens when a user sees your ad, does NOT click on it, but then later returns to your site (whether by organic search or direct) and completes any sort of conversion action then.

view-through conversion vs direct conversion

The view-through conversion is only counted if it occurs within a certain number of days after a user sees your ad. This is called the conversion window, lookback window, or attribution window, and you can set it to be anywhere from one to 30 days.

However, the more time that elapses between an impression and a conversion, the less certain it becomes that it was that one ad’s impression that influenced the conversion. After all, a person will encounter a lot of material in the 30 days after seeing an ad that could also play a role in whether they return to your site and convert.

As a result, shorter lookback windows are best for the most realistic and accurate data.

view-through conversion window setting in google ads

View-through conversions are important in understanding the true value of your display ads.

But can we trust view-through conversions? (experiment)

This question is by no means a new one, but when it came up for the folks over at PPC agency Teamedia, they took a unique approach in answering it.

When one of their clients saw that the Display remarketing campaign wasn’t generating many conversions, they requested to stop it and reallocate resources to more profitable ad types.

However, the client was only looking at direct conversions, and almost 50% of the campaign’s total conversions were view-throughs.

Even still, the client didn’t think that view-throughs should be counted while calculating the total campaign’s CPA; and without counting view-throughs, the campaign wasn’t meeting the target KPI.

The question

View-through conversions are a measure of how often seeing an ad influences a person to later return to your site and convert. But how do you know that a user is actually seeing the ad?

Yes, Google Ads tells us that an impression is considered a “view” when at least 50% of the ad is onscreen for at least one second. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a user has seen the ad.

How can we trust that these aren’t just fake or made-up numbers Google uses so we’ll keep running our Display ads?

The experiment

So, the folks at Teamedia set up an experiment to see whether view-through conversions were accurately measuring the influence of their client’s Display campaign on future website conversions.

After letting the original campaign run for 30 days, they paused it and then launched a clone of it, but this time with a completely blank banner ad. That’s right, blank white space, no headline, no description, no nothing.

blank display ad setup for view-through conversion experiment

And surprisingly enough, Google approved and served it!

So this way, if Google recorded any view-through conversions from this ad, Teamedia would know that this metric is not trustworthy.

In other words, since view-throughs say that seeing your ad influenced a user to go to your site later—any view-throughs from this invisible ad would be bogus since there was nothing to see.

The results

The original Display campaign (with the regular banner ad) generated 2,418,973 impressions and nine view-through conversions.

view-through conversion experiment original campaign results

The test campaign (with the invisible ad) generated 315,677 impressions and zero view-through conversions.

view-through conversion experiment test campaign results

Teamedia also checked the time lag report in Google Ads to verify that for the past 90 days, all view-through conversions happened within one day after seeing the ad (which was the setting they chose).

view-through conversion experiment time lag report

So:

  • Regular ad: 2,418,973 impressions, nine view-through conversions.
  • Invisible ad: 315,677 impressions, zero view-through conversions.

Conclusions

A few caveats:

  • This was, of course, a small experiment done for one campaign on one account.
  • View-through conversions will never be as certain a metric as click-through conversions, since there is no way to concretely measure a view (let alone any resulting subconscious behaviors) versus a click.
  • It’s possible that the absence of view-through conversions in the test campaign was simply due to the lower volume of impressions.

Regardless, we like Teamedia’s creativity of thinking here! And for the sake of this campaign, they could use these results to suggest to their client that view-through conversions can be trusted as an accurate indicator that the display remarketing ad in question was indeed influencing website conversions.

In other words, their client was thinking that the remarketing audiences they were targeting would return to their site and convert anyway, without the display ads. Teamedia used view-through conversions to show them otherwise, and then ran the blank banner ad test to show them that view-throughs could be trusted.

How to get more value from your view-through conversion data

So if this experiment boosts your confidence in view-throughs (or even introduces you to them!), we have some tips on how to use your view-through conversion data.

Gauge brand awareness

There are many different ways to measure brand awareness, such as through branded search volume, social media mentions, and more. But if you see your view-through conversion rate increasing without having made any changes to the copy and creative of your Display ads, this could be a sign that your brand awareness is getting stronger.

Measure memorability

This post provides some insightful tips on using view-through conversions. The first is that eye-catching ads may produce direct conversions, but memorable ads can lead to those indirect view-through conversions. So you can use this metric to run A/B tests and identify which ads are more “sticky” than others.

example of rhyming in a display ad

Rhyming is a psychological copywriting tactic that can make your ads more memorable. (Image source)

Get a feel for your audience’s shopping habits

The second insight from the article cited above is that view-through conversions can help you understand your audience’s shopping habits. You can get a feel for which of your products or services your audience buys spur of the moment (click-through conversions), versus which ones take more time for a decision (view-through conversions).

Optimize placements

View-through conversions help us to identify if some display or video placements are more powerful than others. For example, let’s say you have the same display ad running on two different pages, each one with the same click-through conversion rate. They’re performing equally, right? Not necessarily. If one placement is showing more view-through conversions than the other, you’ve just identified  placement optimization opportunities.

google display ad placement options

Image source

How do you track view-through conversions?

So all we have left is, how exactly do you track view-through conversions so you can make the above optimizations?

As long as you have conversion tracking set up, you can see view-through conversion data in two different ways.

Google Ads analytics

On Google Ads, you can modify your columns so that it appears in the “Campaigns” view.

modifying columns to see view-through conversions

This is the tool Teamedia used to measure view-throughs in their experiment.

Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, view-through conversion data is available through the GDN impression reporting feature.

Go to Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels

view-through conversions in google analytics through MCF

If you want detailed reports and deep analyses on view-through conversions, you would need additional conversion tracking software. However, either of the two methods above should suffice in being able to optimize your campaigns according to this metric.

A creative approach to view-through validity

For many PPC metrics, different advertisers have different viewpoints on them, depending on their experiences as well as the industry, account setup, and overall marketing strategy of the business being advertised.

And by their nature, view through-conversions have always been on the more fuzzy side of things.

But Teamedia’s approach—using view-throughs to demonstrate the value of a Display campaign, and then running a blank campaign to demonstrate the value of view-throughs—was a great one in determining the validity of this metric to their campaign.

Thank you to Zinaida Pchelintseva and her team at Teamedia—a performance marketing agency specializing in paid acquisition for SaaS businesses.

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