View-through conversions are killing your ads
Updated: Sep 8
When I decide what topics to write about, I try to pick the ones that are least talked about and that I believe can make the biggest impact for your advertising campaigns. View-through conversions are definitely one of the most important ones, also a lot less popular and lesser known, especially by the mainstream. Why? Because it’s a pretty boring technical term that anyone outside the world of online paid advertising couldn’t care less about, and most mainstream advertisers are either unfamiliar or devalue its impact. Yes I know, not the sexiest term out there, but I guarantee you this, if you’re advertising online, it has a massive impact for your business.
“View-through conversions” are a reporting event that is reported as a result of an advertisement. In simple terms, a view-through conversion happens when a user “sees” an ad online and then later on makes a conversion (purchase/sign up, etc.) without clicking on the ad. A view-through conversion can be reported because the user viewed the ad before making that conversion within a given time frame, meaning that, theoretically, the ad had something to do with it. In even more simple terms, an advertising platform can place ads in users’ news feeds, social media profiles, or across the web, right before the user is likely to make the conversion, only so they can take credit for the conversion. Maybe the user noticed the ad, maybe he didn’t, but the conversion has been counted and depending on your ad setting, can possibly be reported.
What is likely to happen next is the advertising platform you are using will report that conversion and the associated revenue under the return on ad spend (ROAS) box. But should they? Even if the user didn’t click on the ad?
They can make your overall ad performance worse and cause you to spend more money than what you needed to achieve the same performance. By design, view-through conversions were not designed to help you as an advertiser, they were designed to make you spend more money on ads.
Think of the following scenario– you have two ads running, one on Google and one on Facebook. A user that is considering purchasing your product has seen your ads on both platforms. The probability of them clicking on both ads before making a conversion is likely, but the probability of them just clicking on one of the ads is much higher, there is even a probability that they won’t click on any of the ads if it’s a user that is already in the process of making a purchase. All of the above examples could lead both platforms to report that they delivered a conversion to you, then report that conversion revenue under the return on ad spend column on their ads report. But did they really? Should they both get credit for the conversion? Especially if one of them is taking credit for a view-through conversion that didn’t even include a click on the ad? In short – absolutely not. It’s one thing if both advertising platforms actually engaged with the user and are reporting a conversion off a click. But off a single view? A view that maybe the user didn’t even notice the ad and then made a purchase anyways? Absolutely not.
I don’t want to bore you with going very deep into the details, so I will try to be as concise as possible. View-through conversions were not created to benefit the advertiser (you), they were created as an additional way for advertising platforms to report more results and take more credit from other sources, so you can invest more money into their platform. I have friends who work at all the major advertising platforms and their answers to this statement are all very similar. They state that if a user makes a conversion (purchase, sign up etc..) after they viewed an ad and, even if they didn’t click on it, the ad probably has something to do with it. I don’t buy it. Not a little bit of it. First, because I have been advertising online for more than 15 years and I have yet to see one proper case study that I was able to verify the true value of view-through conversions in terms of net impact and I haven’t seen one piece of evidence to support it. Secondly, I don’t trust advertising platforms. Even if they knew that it doesn’t help advertisers but it helps them generate more money from advertisers, I am completely certain that they will keep using this reporting model. Why wouldn’t they? They are grading and reporting how your ads are doing, so why wouldn’t they include as many conversions as they can? If a teacher lets a student grade their own test, don’t you think the student will add some extra points?
Advertising used to be more transparent and more scientific in the way results were reported.
Technology was less advanced and that required advertising platforms to work with the tools that they had available at the time. If you were advertising on platforms like Google about a decade ago, most of your bidding and analysis would be based on a cost per click model, where everything was just based on clicks and the cost for each click. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to be able to say whether or not a click had actually happened and how much you paid for that specific click. Then, everything else would come second to this. Facebook revolutionized paid advertising as we know it today, with tracking pixel, objective ad targeting, and optimization; meaning that instead of telling them how much you want to pay per click, just tell them what your real goals are and how much you want to pay for a conversion. And that’s when it opened the door for different models of attributions and reporting. It then became a question of not how much you paid for a click, it changed to how do you analyze your results and what these results actually mean for your business. So instead of telling a platform, like Facebook, how much you want to pay for a click; you can just tell them how much you want to pay for a conversion. The question is not whether that conversion happened or not; the question is if an advertising platform is reporting that conversion, should they receive credit for it? Even if it happened without a single click on the ad that they placed.
Advertising went through many changes and from a point where advertising platforms were reporting and taking credit for conversions that happened for 28 days after a click or an ad impression! Crazy, I know! For an advertising platform to report a conversion 28 days after they served in an impression to someone’s newsfeed, that they probably didn’t even notice, is beyond crazy. Many things have changed– take the IOS 14 update, for instance, basically it was a change forced by Apple that requires its users to give consent for apps to track their data and limits the amount of user tracking and increases privacy. This resulted in many changes in the way advertising platforms collect and report data, but also changed how they attribute and report conversions. Now advertising platforms like Facebook and Tikok track by default for 7 days after a click and 1 day after a view yet still some platforms offer the ability to track back as much as 28 days! Google even offers an option to track back up to 90 days. Long story short, advertising platforms will go above and beyond to record, report and take credit for as many conversions they can put their hands on.
There are many benefits to only optimize using click-through conversions, but here are the main ones.
Aiming for “meaningful” conversions.
The first thing that will happen when you swap your campaigns over to optimize and report based on click-through conversions only is also the most important change. Not only will the advertising platform algorithm not count conversions that didn’t happen after a click, it will only put your ads in front of users who are likely to convert after clicking on your ad. Which means that it won’t look for users who are likely to purchase regardless of seeing the ad, but will focus on users who are likely to click on the ad. Yes, it still means that warm traffic or returning visitors will be targeted, but at least it will aim to target users that are actually going to engage with the ad and not just take easy credit for conversions that didn’t even require a touch.
Bottom line is that the algorithm will not treat conversions that didn’t result from a click as conversions and won’t optimize towards finding similar ones. Instead, it will look only for meaningful conversions.
As a result of the shift in optimizations and reporting, you will notice mainly two things. A dramatic decrease in reported conversions and ROAS on the advertising platform. Don’t stress, it won’t impact your actual performance on the store or website level, it only means that the advertising platform is reporting less for the same amount of money. Actual results will be the same or better. The second thing that will happen is if you use another analytics or reporting platform to track your results, you are likely to see an increase in the results there. For example, if you changed your campaigns on Facebook ads to click attribution only, you are likely to see in Google Analytics more sales and better performance coming from your Facebook ads. Why? Because now you are telling Facebook to focus on real conversions that require a click that leads to better results on your website level regardless of whatever results the advertising platform reports.
Less overlap –
The second biggest change that will come as a result of disabling view-through conversions is a massive cut in overlap between conversions that are being counted by more than one platform.
This is vital if you are advertising on more than one platform. You don’t want to leave the window open for both of them to take credit for a sale that either one or neither should be given the credit for. By disabling view-through conversions on all platforms, you’re basically telling them to go and look for real results and stop looking for the easiest opportunities to say “Hey! That conversion that just came through, that’s us!”
Following the change, you will start to notice that overtime both advertising platforms are delivering results and are optimizing towards making your actual sales on the website look better, and not only worrying about making their own reports look better.
More efficiency in the long term –
Paid advertising in almost all cases, is a long term game. Advertising only effectively requires massive amounts of data and the best way to get that data is to aim for the long term. You will notice that with time, you are able to scale your budgets more effectively and start seeing both an incremental increase on the store level when you increase your marketing spend and experience better, and more steady, performance of your paid advertising channels. Advertising platforms will start to realize that the only way to achieve results is to bring new customers through your door and not just look for easy shots and aggressively target your existing customer base.
Within a foreseen amount of time, you will start to notice that you might see less ROAS in your advertising platforms reports, but performance will look better when it comes to the most important thing, YOUR profit.
If you are interested in disabling view- through conversions, here is how to do so on some of the main advertising platforms.
Remember, they are very sneaky and they design their platforms in a way that you are not likely to notice.
On Facebook Ads:
When creating your campaign, make sure to only attribute your campaigns based on click-through conversions –
Go directly to your attribution manager:
They are a little more sneaky and they don’t offer an an option to disable view-through conversions, but they do let you customize your reporting to exclude and change the view-through and click-through conversions attribution settings –
View-through conversions– while not the sexiest term or the most fascinating topic, it can offer you an impactful insight into what platforms are most beneficial for your advertising needs and return on ad spend (ROAS).