Monday, August 24, 2009

Did Google Buy DoubleClick to Squash Conversion Attribution?








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Serial Theorist


I'm a huge fan of conspiracy theories. I've always been fascinated by the JFK assassination and the various angles that have been explored around that tragedy.

When it comes to the business world, though, and digital marketing in particular, I'm no less interested in conspiracy theories, just less convinced by them -- maybe that's because it's one topic I actually know something about.

Last month, I debunked the myth that Google Chrome OS was part of a plot to keep Microsoft from locking Google out of Windows-based PC's.

Just when I thought I'd heard it all, last week, a friend and longtime industry colleague told me he heard rumblings that Google's acquisition of DoubleClick was a ploy to limit the effectiveness of conversion attribution tracking and give more credit to search.

Last Click Home's a Golden Egg

Basically, the theory goes that if Google can make it difficult for advertisers to line up their display and search data side-by-side, they won't realize how much overlap there is between the channels and how much search (and Google) benefit from getting credit for being the last ad clicked.

Now, anecdotally, I've heard that DoubleClick's exposure-to-conversion (E2C) report is a lot clunkier and more difficult to make actionable than Atlas' engagement mapping product. But I find it hard to believe that this is intentional on Google's part.

Of course, for Google, the motive to squash conversion attribution is clear. Quite simply, the more credit given to search, the more likely advertisers are to invest in that channel at the expense of others. But, as any advertiser that has tested turning off other media channels knows, you need the upper-funnel tactics to stimulate search demand at the bottom of the funnel. It doesn't take fancy exposure-to-conversion attribution reports to tell you that your brand and trademark search queries decrease when your display and offline media support are down.

Nonetheless, as evidence that there might be a pattern here, my "source" pointed to this Econsultancy post that takes Google Analytics to task for its default 6 month cookie window which means that "every visit a user happens to make to a site for the six months after having once visited that site via Google is ascribed to the search engine."

Sure, this may lead to search getting more credit but cookies are a very personal thing -- just ask my wife! -- and the proper window is going to be different for every business based on their sales cycle. A default is just that -- a default. It can easily be changed. Unlike DART's E2C reports which requires -- last I heard -- some serious heavy lifting to interpret and act on.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

I suppose the best way to refute this or any other conspiracy theory is to offer up a better alternative. In the case of the Chrome OS, my rationale was that it's all about the queries, baby!

In regards to DoubleClick, I actually think Google bought it, in part, to help improve conversion attribution. Work with me here...

Currently search only gets credit for a conversion when a paid or natural listing is clicked on. Why? Because it's not possible to 3rd party serve a search listing. Since it's a text-only placement, there is no image pixel to fire when the ad is served and, accordingly, no way to track post-view activity.

The post-view conversion is something that display folks have touted for years as proof that their ad placements have latent impact down the funnel. I'm not sure why but some publishers and networks still get away with charging CPA advertisers for post-view acquisitions.

If search were 3rd-party served -- and, did I mention DoubleClick is the world's largest 3rd-party ad server -- then search could start taking credit for all those times when someone searched, was exposed to an advertiser, but didn't immediately click.

There have been plenty of studies showing that merely being in the search results gives advertisers a boost in metrics like brand awareness, consideration and purchase intent. But, without apples to apples post-view metrics, these assertions are falling on deaf ears -- and budgets!

So, yes, I do think Google bought DoubleClick so that search could get more credit but not by squashing conversion attribution, rather by bowing 3rd party ad-serving. So, please, Google, prove me right here. I've only been waiting for this for 2 years!

Update 8/25: Right on cue, today @Matt_McGowan tweeted that Google has begun embedding video ads in search results. The example cited is for the query "Extract." No word on whether this placement is 3rd party served but it's certainly a turning point.

As you can see in the screenshot below, there's a plus sign under the text listing to initiate the ad and the player expands down pushing the natural search listings lower.

Video Ad on Google


1 comment:

Andi Steward said...

This will be one of your posts that I save for reference. I have drafted too many blog posts in the past that lack sufficient keywords and links to my websites. I do like your reference to All in One and will be using it from now on. I will say that it is difficult to have all blog posts be relevant to my website. Sometimes, I just want to write about something in my industry that does not specifically tie into anything on my business website. social media marketer

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