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Different Views of View-Through Tracking

  |  November 30, 2010   |  Comments

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.

Blurry Definitions

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:

  • Existing brand recognition (the bigger the brand name, the more likely true view-through conversions will happen)
  • Multiple users on one computer (just because a cookie is served, doesn't mean that a conversion in a later session was generated by the same user, but the cookie doesn't distinguish that)
  • Accuracy of data correlation (just because an ad impression served can be tracked, does not prove that any user saw and later responded to it; also, does the tracking count the conversion only once, i.e., does any click trump last view?)
  • Consistency (or inconsistency) of reporting (you can't just lump together click-generated conversions and view-through-generated conversions to sum-total the conversion rate)

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:

  • Help you analyze and optimize campaigns
  • Be used as another tool to measure the branding effect
  • Help influence your next media planning decisions

And, if you're a real data wonk, you might want to slice, dice, and analyze data the way, for example, Mediaplex reporting permits:

  • VT metrics can be looked at independently, or combined with click-through or natural search metrics for any conversion tag
  • Reach and frequency reports show conversion activity mapped to multiple exposures per user on any of four levels (campaign, site, placement, creative)
  • Site overlap and path-to-conversion reports expose crossover activity between sites
  • Campaign contribution reports show credit allocated to sites after Mediaplex divides up the credit for multiple site visits equally
  • Full service path-to-conversion examines cross-site and cross-channel analysis, including weighting or grouping by sequence, specific path analysis, influence of display on paid search, and quantitative values of assists

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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Hollis Thomases

A highly driven subject matter expert with a thirst for knowledge, an unbridled sense of curiosity, and a passion to deliver unbiased, simplified information and advice so businesses can make better decisions about how to spend their dollars and resources, multiple award-winning entrepreneur Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is a sole practitioner and digital ad/marketing "gatekeeper." Her 16 years working in, analyzing, and writing about the digital industry make Hollis uniquely qualified to navigate the fast-changing digital landscape. Her client experience includes such verticals as Travel/Tourism/Destination Marketing, Retail & Consumer Brands, Health & Wellness, Hi-Tech, and Higher Education. In 1998, Hollis Thomases founded her first company, Web Ad.vantage, a provider of strategic digital marketing and advertising service solutions for such companies as Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, and Visit Baltimore. Hollis has been an regular expert columnist with Inc.com, and ClickZ and authored the book Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day, published by John Wiley & Sons. Hollis also frequently speaks at industry conferences and association events.

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