Google’s View-Through Metrics, Social Media, and Compulsive Clickers

Search marketers are really lucky. We pay by the click, we see the clicks coming in from SERPs (define), and if there’s a latent brand impact from just being visible in the search results, we can regard that as a freebie. We’re lucky because we can easily demonstrate the bulk of the value derived from our PPC (define) search campaigns (once we factor out invalid or fraudulent clicks). We’re also lucky because search results pages are designed for forward click movement on an organic or paid search link.

However, the search engines have evolved their keyword media options far beyond the SERP, particularly into the contextual targeting of text links, and more recently into behavioral targeting of searchers at a point after they searched.

Hooray! Google now has view-through metrics reporting for self-serve advertisers. Unfortunately, rejoicing may be premature. View-throughs, a valuable metric when used properly, are dangerous if misused. Why do we need view-through metrics at all? Because so many people don’t click on ads at all, a fact quantified in the recent comScore “Natural Born Clickers” study released on October 1. It found that almost nobody clicks on display (banner) advertisements. For a one-month period, 84 percent of U.S. Internet users clicked on zero banners, leaving 16 percent to do all the clicking. Even worse, heavy clickers (the top 50 percent of clickers, representing 4 percent of the U.S. population) represent 67 percent of total clicks. If the text link portion of Google’s content network is sufficiently similar to display ad banners with regard to user behavior, it’s obvious that in order to measure ad influence and effectiveness, we need to look at view-throughs, not just clicks.

Luckily, for keyword marketers using the Google AdSense content network, Google now offers view-though reporting. View-throughs are an indicator of the percentage of visitors to your site that were exposed (hypothetically) to an ad impression. Based on an industry conference session I presented at this week, many of you — on both the agency and marketer side — are new to display advertising and may not be familiar with the view-through. The biggest challenge with the view-through metric? The trigger for the view-through is just that a browser loaded a page that included your ad. Clearly, there’s no guarantee that the human in front of the browser noticed your ad, even if that ad was above the fold. Furthermore, ads often run below the fold.

Marketers who run display advertising can easily look at view-through data because a cookie is set at the time of impression and that visitor’s behavior is tracked if she happens to show up at the advertiser site through direct navigation, search, or another trackable source such as a link from the news media or social media.

Just because the display market is challenged by extremely low click-through rates, this doesn’t mean that the ad has no impact. When exposed to a banner or contextual text link that actually registers with the surfer (targeted contextually, categorically, or behaviorally), the surfer has only a small set of immediate and delayed response options.

For example, a surfer exposed to a Google AdSense, text ad, other text ad, or banner could do the following:

  • Click on the banner (most consumers apparently do not do this).
  • Direct navigate (to the site mentioned in a banner).
  • Do a search (because even those who know where they want to navigate use search to get there, this is a common immediate response. Perhaps these people distrust in the banner and its ability to bring them to the right place or to the right information).
  • Visit a social networking site to do research among “friends.”
  • Call or go offline (assuming that’s a reasonable option).
  • Remember an ad and the company (branding), possibly doing one of the above options but at a later time.

The view-through rate is a great way to see how different media types respond “beyond the click” by interacting with a site or brand. We’ll never be able to fully track offline behavior. For that we need to use more sophisticated methods ranging from surveys and observed behavior to full-scale econometric analyses.

Note to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other text link ad networks: Because advertisers will sometimes want view-through data for text link ads in a report comparable to that produced by their ad server or campaign management system, consider ways in which the advertiser ad server pixel could be served next to their text link ad. You’d see greater adoption by agencies with branding objectives, and you might even be able to start selling text links on a CPM (define) basis.

On a related note, apparently the interaction effects (similar to the view-through concept) between social media and search are now being quantified. This study, also by comScore, indicates that consumer searchers were 2.5 times more likely to click after exposure to a brand’s social marketing. Of course, it’s not easy to get the kind of visibility in social media that will move the needle, but these results provide food for thought, particularly because the familiarity with the brand and message for at least that segment of users will increase Quality Score in paid search. The study reported a 50 percent CTR (define) increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search.

Related reading

Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.