Post-Impression Purchasing: It's Not Just Gravy Anymore

We've known there is more value to an online impression than the click for several years now. But with all the excitement in the industry over immediate click-to-buy action centered on media venues like paid search and contextually-targeted text links, it doesn't hurt to be reminded.

A 1998 report issued by the merged-into-non-existence AdKnowledge taught us that we can expect at least as many online ad conversions as the result of an impression as we can the result of immediate ad clicks. "View-through" became part of the lexicon as soon as we figured out how to track it with cookies. Those conversions that came about as the result of the mere ad view, without a click, came to be known as "non-click conversions." Many online advertisers considered any non-click conversions from their campaigns to be gravy - CPC or CPA vendors didn't get paid for them, but the advertiser did benefit from them.

Yesterday, DoubleClick released two separate reports that show the impact of online advertising over time. Apparently, they're coining a new term for view-through-related back end activity - "in-direct response." The major difference between non-click conversions and in-direct response is that in-direct response is measured by comparing the activity of non-clickers exposed to an ad to the activity of a control group. The measurement of the resultant lift neatly isolates the effect of the online advertising, and it gives us a more accurate picture of what online advertising is worth.



Together with Continental Airlines, DoubleClick launched the study to address a question about non-click conversions that clients have been asking for years - how can we be sure that the conversions attributed to people who have seen an ad were the result of viewing the ad? After all, one can't simply take credit for any conversion attributed to someone who had seen an ad up to 30 days prior to the action. How would we know whether or not the person who was exposed to the ad would have purchased anyway, due to offline advertising or pre-existing brand awareness? This question is a big one for companies like Continental Airlines that have strong brands with or without online advertising. DoubleClick's solution was to employ the exposed/control methodology described earlier.

The DoubleClick study found that just over two-thirds (67.5%) of non-click conversion activity is attributable to online advertising. So while we can't take credit for the purchasing behavior of anyone exposed to an ad, we can take credit for a good-sized chunk of it. Of course, not everyone has the established brand awareness of a company like Continental Airlines, so your mileage may vary.

The study, which I urge you to read thoroughly, shows the effects of the online advertising within a 30-day window, which I'm not going to comment on here. To me, the real impact of DoubleClick's release is that we're gaining insight into the value of an ad impression, regardless of whether anyone actually clicks on the ad or not. DoubleClick's 2Q Ad Serving Trends report, also released yesterday, showed that view-through typically accounts for six times more conversions than post-click activity. If you're counting only conversions that are the result of post-click activity, you're getting only a small piece of the picture. For every one post-click purchase, you might be getting six view-through purchases, at least four of which can be attributed back to your online ads, depending on the strength of your brand.

I'd say that's good news.

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