Video has played an increasingly important role in the life of digital marketers over the past few years. As digital marketers have become more familiar with in-stream video advertising, new insights and opportunities have emerged.
Google has historically positioned YouTube as an awareness channel, but mounting pressure from Facebook and the demands of advertisers looking to find more channels to acquire customers have led to an evolution in YouTube’s direct response capabilities.
YouTube TrueView for action ads are a prime example of Google’s attempt to turn their video property into a performance marketing engine, including attribution updates to better align user behavior with reported performance.
What are TrueView for action ads?
TrueView for action campaigns add prominent CTA (call-to-action) banners at the base of your TrueView video ads on YouTube, which help drive leads and conversions. The branded banner can be tailored to a specific action goal such as “Book now,” “Get a quote” or “Learn more.”
TrueView for action campaigns allow you to optimize for specific conversion events and move your customers along the path to purchase by encouraging actions like scheduling an appointment or requesting more information.
To understand how video works in the purchase journey, it’s important to have accurate attribution – and when looking at the relationship between video ad exposure and conversions, YouTube determined that the default attribution window for TrueView for action ads needed to change.
Key KPIs for TrueView ads
There are several KPIs you should be aware of before we explore the new updates.
An ‘engagement’ is when a user views your TrueView for action ad for a set minimum amount of time or clicks on the ad.
Once an engagement is completed and the viewer goes on to complete a given conversion action (within the conversion attribution window), then it is counted as a ‘conversion’ under the ‘Conversions’ column within Google Ads reporting.
A user must interact with an ad in order to generate a conversion, but as a reminder there are 3 different types of conversions that can be generated depending on the user interaction with the video ad:
- Click-through conversions (CTC): Counted when a user clicks on one of the interactive ad elements and then converts within the conversion attribution window set within Google Ads’ conversion settings (default window is 30 days).
- Engaged-view conversions (EVC): Counted when a user views your ad for at least 10 seconds (or watches the entire ad if it is less than 10 seconds) and then converts within the conversion attribution window set within Google Ads’ conversion settings (default window is now 3 days, see below to read changes made from the previous window of 30 days).
- View-through conversion (VTC): Counted when a user sees your ad for less than the time needed to count as an engagement (such as viewing for 5 seconds and skipping) and doesn’t click on it, but goes on to convert within the conversion attribution window (default window is 24 hours).
An engagement (watching for a set minimum amount of time or clicking on the ad) needs to occur in order to be counted as a conversion that is reported in the ‘Conversions’ column.
However, let’s say a user doesn’t engage with the ad (meaning they don’t watch at least 10 seconds or click on the ad) but they still go on to convert. Do they still count as a conversion?
Yes, the conversion is still counted – but that user gets counted as a view-through conversion and is reported in the ‘View-through conversions’ column, which is separate from the ‘Conversions’ column in the campaign reporting.
Your ‘View-through conversions’ column tells you when customers see, but don’t engage with, your ad, and then later complete a conversion on your site. This is different from the data in your ‘Conversions’ column.
You may be wondering, if VTCs have their own column, where are CTCs and EVCs reported? CTCs and EVCs are included in the ‘Conversions’ column because the user had to interact with the ad and then converted; when the user doesn’t interact or engage with the ad but still converts, they get reported as a VTC in the separate ‘View-through conversions’ column.
What’s new about TrueView for action ads?
Google is reducing the amount of time needed for a YouTube video view to count as an “engagement.” There is now a lower threshold for what is considered a conversion due to the definition of engaged-view conversions.
YouTube will now count ‘engagements’ as whenever a user clicks on an ad or watches 10 seconds (or the entire video if it’s shorter than 10 seconds) of a TrueView for action ad instead of requiring a user to watch 30 seconds, which was the previous threshold.
YouTube is also shortening the conversion attribution window. Formerly ‘conversions’ were counted if someone watched at least 30 seconds of an ad and converted within 30 days. However, Google has now shortened the default conversion window from 30 days to just 3 days.
Note that you can always reach out to your Google team to increase this new conversion attribution window if it doesn’t align with your business or conversion cycle. You might want to do this if most actions in your conversion cycle are historically taken after 3 days, so the shorter default window would result in fewer conversions for your business.
This change in default attribution window will only affect engaged-view conversions. There are no changes to the click-through conversion attribution window. Click-through conversions will still be attributed according to your chosen click-through conversion window (default is 30 days) within Google Ads.
View-through conversion attribution will also stay the same. So when a user sees your ad for less than 10 seconds and doesn’t click, but still goes on to convert on your site, those view-through conversions will still be attributed according to your chosen view-through conversion window (default is 24 hours).
How Will These Changes Affect Advertisers?
This attribution change could have a significant impact on conversions as they are defined within Google Ads reporting. Performance will likely appear very different (better) if you are looking at Google data as the “source of truth” for reporting, since the bar for conversions has been lowered with the shorter engagement requirement of 10 seconds.
That being said, there is a trade-off that balances out the now shorter engagement threshold of 10 seconds (which will likely lead to more conversions being reported) with the now shorter conversion attribution window of 3 days (which will likely lead to fewer conversions being reported).
The net impact of these changes will depend on the duration of your videos, how long your videos are viewed by your target audience, and how long viewers take to ultimately convert on your website or app. It will also depend on whether you consider Google conversion data as the source of truth for your reporting.
If you consider Google conversion data as your source of truth, then you should see better performance and your optimization workflow will probably not change much since it’s all closed loop within Google Ads. Given that TrueView for action campaigns require using Google Smart Bidding options, you will likely see faster ramp up times (since there should theoretically be more conversions coming through with the lowered engagement window).
If you are like most marketers and have a hybrid workflow where your internal data is the source of truth but you map that internal performance data against Google data to take advantage of in-platform reporting and optimization, you will likely see the biggest impact. This new attribution will likely require a realignment between conversions as reported within Google and what is reported within your backend system to make sure the two are in sync.
Given that TrueView for action campaigns are optimized towards conversions via Google Smart Bidding options, they will continue to be billed on a CPM basis so there is no major impact expected here.
That being said, it could have an impact on overall auction pricing, which could have an effect on CPMs over time.
As Google continues to compete for advertisers’ business against Facebook, we expect the YouTube platform to continue to evolve towards a direct response channel. There’s no doubt that YouTube, with its 1.8 billion active users, can drive significant brand awareness and reach benefits. The effectiveness of direct response advertising on the platform remains to be seen.