When Is A Conversion Actually A Conversion?

I was wondering what to write about this week and then shazaam – Google gifted me their announcement about changes to the way conversions will be reported and displayed in AdWords. Thanks for the inspiration, let’s get right into it, shall we?

Quick summary of the changes includes (from the Google announcement post):

  1. The new “Conversions” column will show you conversion data for all the conversion actions that you’ve opted into optimization.
  2. “Estimated Total Conversions” column will now be labeled “All Conversions”
  3. “Estimated Cross-Device Conversions” column will now be labeled “Cross-Device Conversions”

One theme seems clear here – AdWords is trying to get rid of the impression that there is any estimating going on in the conversion data they are providing/reporting to customers. On its face, we are not losing data like we did with keywords passing through to Analytics, but there is still something about this that does not sit well with me.

Simply renaming data that was, and as far as I can tell, still is based on AdWords’ estimates of behaviors they cannot actually track and calling the data just conversions instead of estimated conversions will certainly cause confusion and could even be characterized as deceitful. But beyond that, there is no way that this will not start to change end clients’ perceptions on the “effectiveness” of their AdWords advertising as they start to see, what I can only imagine will be an uptick in their conversion figures. I want clients to be excited about what AdWords and PPC in general can and is doing for them, but I also want that enthusiasm to be based on actual, hard data and not just part data and part pixie dust and wish magic.

I am all for any improvements in the ability to track behaviors of customers through all of their online interactions with clients’ digital assets. We all long for really, truly accurate and reliable cross-device attribution. But make no mistake – this is not that. This is renaming estimated data as actual data. And that is just wrong.

A few more nuggets in the announcement to be aware of:

1. “Conversions” Column New Parameters

The new “Conversions” column will show you conversion data for all the conversion actions that you’ve opted into optimization. This means that you will now be able to choose whether or not to include a conversion action in this column by turning its optimization setting on or off. The default optimization setting for most conversion actions is “on,” so in most cases all of your conversion actions will be included in your “Conversions” column unless you turned the setting “off.” This data was previously in the “Conv. (opt.)” column. (Emphasis mine).

Unless there is more to this, it seems as though in order to have your conversions included in the new Conversions column, you will have to opt them IN to (or not opt them out of) conversion optimization. You can read about opting in for conversion optimization here (the AdWords Answer post has not been updated to reflect the new column structure as of the writing of this post).

From the conversion optimization answer post:

Example: Say you want to track two types of conversion actions on your site. You’d like to track each time a customer puts something in their shopping cart, and each time a customer completes an online sale. In this scenario, you only want optimize for the completed online sales. Disable the “Optimization” setting for the shopping cart conversion action, then apply an automated bid strategy to allow AdWords to attempt to get you as many online sales as possible while ignoring the shopping cart action.

So with the new announcement, it would seem that this advice is no longer relevant? Questions arise. See next point…

2. “Estimated Conversions” Is Now Just Called “All Conversions”

“All conversions” (“All conv.”) will show you data for all conversion actions, including those for which you have turned off optimization, and will also include cross-device conversions. This data previously appeared in your “Estimated total conversions” column. Your “All conversions” column will also reflect your chosen attribution model for each conversion action. (Emphasis mine).

This just seems like a muddy, muddy mess of a data set. This is where any conversion actions you have chosen not to opt into conversion optimization will get dumped, along with the not-totally-based-in-actual-data cross-device conversions. Fantastic.

3. “Estimated Cross-Device Conversions” Is Now Just Called “Cross-Device Conversions”

The “Cross-device conversions” (“Cross-device conv.”) column, previously called “Estimated cross-device conversions” (Est. cross-device conv.”) will report the total number of cross-device conversions across all of your conversion actions. (Emphasis mine).

Huh. Did AdWords roll out some kind of super new tracking technology to follow people completely accurately as they move in between devices and search, view or click on ads and visit sites? Did I miss that big announcement? Because if that didn’t happen, just calling this column “Cross-Device Conversions” seems really shady.

I would love for someone to tell me I am totally wrong about all of this. If there are more announcements or more information about this that I have not seen, please share and enlighten me.

What do you think about all of this? I’m not saying this will impact strategy per se, but it sure seems like it is about to make reporting real numbers to clients harder and will surely bring questions from clients about changes in the figures we are reporting to them. And it seems like it paves the way for either less scrupulous PPC agencies to report bogus numbers as “success” to their clients and/or for AdWords reps to tout to end clients who won’t know any better and think they are getting more bang for their buck then maybe they actually are. I just want transparency for everyone so they can easily understand what it being reported and what it is based on and how much of that data comes from estimates by Google and how much comes from actual trackable actions by people. That shouldn’t be too hard, should it?

Love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Sound off in the comments and/or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon).

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