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Attribution Digital Marketing Google Ads

YouTube Video Campaigns are Over-Reporting Conversions

YouTube Campaigns count conversions differently than all other campaign types in AdWords. This leads to over inflation of conversion data by up to 1000% which in turn leads to significant overspend.

YouTube Video Campaigns count Conversions very differently from other Campaign types

YouTube Video Campaigns count view-conversions as click-conversions, and include them in the “Conversions” columns of Google Ads.

If you are running a ROI focused YouTube Campaign that is targeting a lower funnel Remarketing Audience, the revenue and conversions reported by Google Ads can be over-inflated by 1000% or more vs what Google Analytics will report.

When running a YouTube Campaigns, always:

  1. Be suspicious and skeptical of the conversion data
  2. Adjust your performance targets. Conversions will be overinflated by a factor of up to 1000%, so adjust your performance accordingly.
  3. Use Google Analytics as your measure of YouTube Campaign performance
  4. Avoid Targeting lower funnel Remarketing Lists with YouTube. Save these lists for campaigns that offer true click-based conversion tracking.
  5. Explicitly exclude low funnel Remarketing Lists from your targeting. This will ensure the attribution poaching is limited.

YouTube Conversion Tracking Explained

Standard Campaign Behaviour

For most campaign types, a conversion is only recorded in the “Conversions” column when someone clicks on your ad and then proceeds to make a purchase. This is called a Click-Through Conversion. If there are no clicks on your ad, no conversion is recorded in the Conversions column.

This is the normal expected behaviour.

YouTube Campaign Behaviour

For YouTube campaigns, clicks behave normally: If someone clicks on your ad and then makes a purchase, that purchase is recorded as a conversion as expected. So far so good.

However, if someone DOES NOT CLICK on your ad, but watches your entire ad, and then later purchases, that purchase will be recorded as a conversion and attributed to YouTube.

As per Google:

A ‘view’ is counted when someone watches 30 seconds (or the whole ad if it’s shorter than 30 seconds) or clicks on a part of the ad. A ‘view’ that leads to a conversion is counted in the ‘Conversions’ column. 

Google Ads Help: Understand your conversion tracking data
https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/6270625

Essentially, these are View-Through Conversions masquerading as Click-Through Conversions. The ad was never clicked, yet a conversion was recorded anyway. Considering that many ads are only 5 seconds long, most ad views are likely being treated as clicks.

This is NOT EXPECTED behaviour!

Attribution Poaching

Attribution Poaching is when one Channel tries to take credit for a sale that was either going to happen anyway, or for a sale that was actually caused by another Channel.

Consider this scenario

You create a YouTube campaign targeting your Shopping Cart Abandoners with a 5 second video ad.

One of your potential customers visits your site, and ads a product to their Shopping Cart. By adding to the Shopping Cart, they are now in your Shopping Cart Abandoners audience, and will be actively targeted by your YouTube Campaign.

They continue to browse your site, but they are interrupted by an e-mail or text from a friend with a link to a funny YouTube video. They click on the link and watch the video. While watching the video, they are forced to watch your 5s video ad (which they ignore). Since they watched y0ur entire ad, Google considers that a “click”.

They then eventually return to your site, to complete the purchase. Or maybe they complete the purchase 3 days later after receiving your Cart Abandonment e-mail.

In either case, your YouTube Campaign will claim credit for the Purchase, and will count it as a Conversion even thought that customer never clicked on your ad.

Why is Google Doing This?

A video view is much more like an impression than like a click, so why are these conversions being lumped in with click-through conversions?

The simple cynical answer is that Goolge makes more more money this way. By counting view-through conversions, the YouTube campaigns will appear to perform much better than they actually do with just click-through conversions (as much as 1000% better). If advertisers think that YouTube is performing 10X better, then they will allocated 10X more budget. The end result is Google makes 10X more money from YouTube.

A “Video View” is more like an Impressions than a Click

Video-View-Conversions should clearly be lumped into the View-Through Conversion column. If Google wants to explicitly report on Video-View-Conversions separately, then they should create another column type. Don’t lump them in with click-through conversions.

Unexpected Behaviour

The problem with all this is that suddenly the “Conversions” column behaves differently in one campaign type vs another. Suddenly the clean click-through conversion data is being polluted with View-Through conversion data. This makes YouTube campaigns appear to perform much better than they should. Which will lead you to incorrectly increase spend.

To make the matter worse…

  1. Many people have long click-through conversion windows. Often 30 days or even longer. This essentially allows a YouTube to claim credit for a conversion that happens 30 days after a video view.
  2. Many video ads are short – only 5s long. Most of these short ads are probably viewed in their entirety, meaning that they are all being counted as clicks. Often the user is forced to watch the entire 5s ad – again a click. This leads to more incorrectly attributed click-conversions.
  3. Often people target video ads using remarketing lists. Often the lowest hanging fruits for video campaigns are Remarketing Audiences. This shows ads to people who know your brand, who have recently visited your site, who may be subscribed to your newsletter, and who may in fact be currently actively shopping on your site. They are all likely to buy from you regardless of the the video ad, but the video ad will take credit for all their purchases.

This could also affect your Display and Discovery Campaigns

This issue could also affect your regular display campaigns and possibly your Discovery campaigns if they are serving ads on the YouTube network.

My recommendation for Display Campaigns is to try and exclude all YouTube placements: Go to: Campaign Settings > Additional Settings > Content Exclusions and select all of the following for exclusion:

  • Live streaming YouTube video
  • Embedded video
  • In-video

Notes:

  • This should only be an issue if you use Google Ads Native Conversion tracking. If you import your conversions directly from Google Analytics, then this should not be an issue (as Analytics only attributes conversions to the last click)
  • If you are running  a pure brand awareness campaign, this is probably less of a concern for you.
  • If you are an Ad Agency getting paid as a % of ad spend, then YouTube campaigns can make you a lot of money.

More Reading

By Alex Czartoryski

Alex is the director of digital marketing for Manitobah Mukluks, Canada’s fastest growing footwear brand, where he helps the luxury winter boot manufacturer accelerate growth profitably via digital marketing. Alex has over 20 years experience in e-commerce and digital marketing.

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