How to explain the view-through conversion rate to advertisers.
A media planner's job is to plan campaigns that meet advertisers' objectives; meaning that something in the campaign needs to be measurable. Avoid the subject as much as you like, but at the end of the campaign, the advertiser wants to know what his money bought him. For advertisers, online media is complicated by the many kinds of metrics that can be tracked, how that tracking gets done, and how standardized (or not) that tracking and reporting process is. These days, most advertisers are familiar with impression-based ad buys and the notion of click-through and click-through rates (CTR), but there's another measurement, the view-through conversion rate (VTR), that's less well-known among advertisers and not necessarily easy to explain.
Trying to define the VTR to your advertiser can even get you into trouble. Wikipedia describes it as "an estimation of the number of impressions viewed during the advertising campaign, (as well as estimation of realized advertising contacts)"; Google, which offers VTR tracking for display ad campaigns, says in its Help Center that VTR "provides a measure of the number of online conversions that happened within 30 days after a user saw, but did not click, a display ad"; other common resources for online advertising definitions don't even list it! The gist of the idea is to give attribution to an ad that was served to a Web page but not necessarily clicked on, but there's a lot that these meager definitions don't tell us.
Who's Offering View-Through Conversion Tracking?
These days, almost every ad serving platform (e.g., Atlas, DoubleClick, Mediaplex, MediaMind, ZEDO) offers some aspect of view-through conversion tracking and reporting, as do ad networks large and small (e.g., Google Display Ads, Specific Media, AdBrite, AdBean). Facebook calls its view-through "post-impression" tracking.
What's the Big Deal?
You might have heard of the "last click" debate. In "last click" scenarios, the ad (and placement type/location) that got clicked on, which then led to some kind of desired action, gets credit for that action, despite the fact that the user may have been exposed to that same ad other times and on other websites but never bothered to click on it. View-through tracking gives publishers and networks a means to take credit for those previously served ads. Of course, taking credit when that credit is directly associated with some kind of cost-per-action compensation generates another issue entirely: how accurate is VTR reporting and attribution?
Problems exist in how view-through tracking gets enabled and whether or not an ad serve equals an actual user view. View-through tracking involves short-lived cookies (cookies that expire after 30 days or less) and tags, not uncommon to click-through conversion tracking methods either, but given the nebulous "view" attribution in the first place, it's not a sound science.
The Media Planner's Predicament
Getting through the explanation of view-through tracking with an advertising client just kicks off more challenges. Next, the media planner must make sure the client understands the reality of view-through tracking. Factors that impact view-through conversion tracking include:
Media planners also risk digital metrics overloading the client, a constant quandary: how much information is too much information?
How View-Through Data Should Be Used
View-through tracking and reporting has its benefits, especially when reviewed as part of the larger picture. View-through data can:
And, if you're a real data wonk, you might want to slice, dice, and analyze data the way, for example, Mediaplex reporting permits:
Have you hit information overload? Join the club.
Hollis is off today. This column was originally published on October 5, 2010 on ClickZ.
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A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."
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