The concept of view-based clicks and conversions has been around a long time. We online media planners and buyers love the view-based conversion — it makes us look like heroes. Clients eat it up because they love the boost it gives campaign metrics, and publishers love it because they can use it to create better retention rates for advertisers. Overall, it lends incredible weight to the whole online advertising space and has been a significant force in furthering of our common cause: growing the percentage of the ad budget that online gets. Used correctly, view-based metrics are a win for agencies, clients, and publishers.
A view-based, or view-through, conversion is a count of how many site visits or conversions you received from people who didn’t click on your banner but were exposed to it. When a person loads a page in her browser and your ad is served to her, a cookie’s set on her browser right through the banner. So if she doesn’t click your ad but somehow ends up at your site, your tracking application (typically Dart, AtlasDMT, Mediaplex, or one of the networks) counts that visit and any resulting conversions as view-based.
Though these metrics are very valuable and tend to significantly boost a campaign’s performance and strengthen online’s case, I still see lots of confusion in the marketplace over them. As a result, they’re either ignored, misread, or, at worst, artificially boosting campaign performance.
Online metrics — even click-based metrics — are never 100 percent accurate. However, they’re more accurate than anything you’ll ever get from surveys, sampling, or and forms of media research. This tracking provides a real-time directional information about what works. That is, which creative performs best and what properties and audiences are most receptive to the messages and offers. Online tracking enables nimble marketers and advertisers to quickly optimize their campaigns’ performance.
From a directional standpoint, both click- and view-based metrics really shine and increase the ROI (define) of what you do online (and offline, too, if correctly interpreted). Sites and creative with high click- and view-based numbers (visits and conversions) tell you you’re hitting the right audience with the right message.
Things get dicey and controversial when people take the granular numbers too literally and actually calculate and report ROI on these metrics. This applies to click-based metrics as well. We try to have our clients use top-line reports and metrics that can incorporate data from their sales figures, CRM (define) systems, and actual site activity that can be accurately traced back to online advertising as ROI metrics.
When you incorporate view-based data into your top-line dashboard, “double counting” is the biggest culprit in throwing numbers way off. Double-counting can even occur with click-based visits and conversions, but when view-based data is incorporated it goes really out of control. This usually occurs when you run multiple campaigns with parallel tracking systems.
For example, you may run an online campaign using a standard banner server like Dart or AtlasDMT, a low-cost CPM (define) network where tracking is used to optimize conversions, and a search-based PPC (define) campaign (Google AdWords, Yahoo, MSN) with a third tracking system installed. This is a classic scenario we’ve seen many times: the view-based numbers in the banner server metrics and network metrics become incredibly inflated.
The cookies set by your banners create view-based clicks and conversions from paid search. We had a client whose view-based conversion (and perceived ROI) from one network dropped over 95 percent when it switched from view- and click-based metrics to just click-based. This was because it was running two tracking systems — one from a network and one for search-based PPC campaigns. The search PPC conversions got counted as view-based by the network tracking because the network set millions of cookies on browsers of people exposed to the banner. Then, when consumers clicked a search ad, the network tracking tool couldn’t rewrite the cookie from being a view-based to a click-based conversion. So any conversions that occurred from the search-based PPC campaign (and natural search clicks, for that matter) that accepted network cookies were counted as a PPC conversion from search engines and a view-conversion from the network.
How will this problem be fixed? First, networks, bid management tools, and banner servers must be configured to cooperate and set some standards and online linkages that let their systems overwrite or delete each other’s view-based cookies with click-based cookies. If they do, their view-based metrics will be more accurate and a lot more credible.
This is a monumental challenge, and we all want to capitalize on the view-based metric’s benefits. Here’s what needs to change for that to happen:
- As much as possible, use a unified tracking system and use only that system for your directional view-based metric information, preferably your banner server. It isn’t perfect and you’ll miss out on network view-based metrics, but you don’t get site-level metrics from the networks anyway. Also, the network-view metrics are where the majority of double counting occurs. This is because the networks serve cookie-setting banners through low-cost CPMs on literally thousands of sites, so there’s a ton of tracking system overlap.
- Continue to use separate tracking systems for PPC and networks so those systems can be automatically optimized and you can save on network serving fees. However, track the clicks using your banner server’s click tracking. This way, the view cookies from your banner server that report on the site and creative level are overwritten, and you won’t have double-counted view-based conversions in your system. This adds more cost to overall banner serving and tracking fees, but it’s the price you’ll have to pay for accurate view-based conversion metrics.
- Separate click-based and view-based data in your dashboards to keep it real and highlight the additional insight you can get from view-based data.
Overall, click-based data will always be what clients gravitate toward. If they’re ROI-focused rather than branding-focused, this statement is all the more true. The more you minimize double-counting in view-based data, the more you can capitalize on it to optimize a campaign and trumpet online’s power and success to your clients.
Meet Harry at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.
Join us for the ClickZ Specifics: Analytics seminar on May 2 at the Hilton New York in New York City.
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