Three times in the past two weeks, I have been asked my opinion on the current state of "view-thru" conversion tracking. It seems that lots of people these days are concerned that view-thru tracking has gotten a bit out of control and is distorting the connection between the actual effectiveness of individual media properties and their "apparent" contribution to driving conversions for advertisers.
What is view-thru conversion tracking? Simply put, it is a technique designed to quantify the downstream value of online ad impressions. As we know, many people don't click on banners. However, many of those same people eventually surf to promoted sites on their own and convert. View-thru tracking associates the delivery of ad impressions to specific browsers, with eventual conversions by those users on the advertisers' Web sites. Thus, when agencies and advertisers evaluate which of their ad impressions were most effective, they can track conversions back to the Web sites or networks that delivered the ads, whether or not there was an initial click.
Typically agencies and advertisers establish specific rules as to who and how they will give credit to view-thru conversions. The complicating factor is that most sites and networks have overlapping audiences, so someone who eventually converts on a marketer's site is likely to have seen ads on several different sites or networks. Who gets the credit in the case of a view-thru? Some will give credit to everybody that served ads to the converting person within a certain amount of time, such as in the last week. However, the industry standard (established by the third-party ad servers) is to give credit only to the last site that served an ad to the user, thus nullifying the value contribution of all of the other ads served to that person. In addition, there is concern that crediting only the last site rewards media and media practices that can drive great view-thrus, but maybe don't deliver much real advertising value.
Sites and networks can get the credit for any of their visitors' ultimate conversions whether or not the ads are in places where they can actually get noticed, or whether or not the content that they are embedded in is even conducive to ad viewing (like on instant messengers where lots of users show up). This means that a bottom-of-the-page ad -- stuck below even the sites' text ads or a rotating ad in an instant messenger, which was the last thing that users closed out when packing up their laptop for home -- will get credit for users' subsequent conversion even if another site had just delivered three rich media, above-the-fold ads to the user only minutes before.
Is there a better way? I'm very interested in your ideas and opinions to help solve this problem, but here are some of mine to start the ball rolling:
What do you think?