DoubleClick Search and Google AdWords Conversion Tracking Changes

Post by Jane Wimlett, Paid Search Senior Executive

Executive Summary

In a move which will strongly limit the tracking power of non-first party cookies, Apple recently introduced its “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” (ITP) initiative, which began to roll out on September 20, 2017. This will severely inhibit advertisers’ ability to track valuable user behavior and attribute it to their marketing activity, with serious repercussions on reporting. In response to this development, DoubleClick Search and Google AdWords are making updates to the way they track conversions in an effort to report all possible and potential conversions. To this end, advertisers will soon have the option to allow DoubleClick Search and AdWords to estimate untrackable clicks directly within both platforms.

Background

Cookies are vital to the way DoubleClick Search and AdWords work because they track each and every part of an online purchasing journey, from the first click to the final conversion, and attribute them to the relevant advertiser. In an effort to prevent the cross-site tracking of users, the introduction of ITP, released alongside the latest Safari update, is intended to limit the tracking power of cookies that do not originate from the advertiser’s own domain. There will be a 24-hour retention period, designed to cover instances such as users having to log in to a domain using their information from another site.

This severe undervaluing of mobile, whose importance continues to grow steadily (and which now represents over 50% of search queries in some sectors), means that advertisers will not only begin to see more inaccuracies within their reporting, but will also experience significant underreporting because fewer conversions will now be trackable. In an effort to counteract these changes, DoubleClick and Google have made updates to their conversion tracking and reporting.

What’s Available?

DoubleClick Search and AdWords will soon present the option to estimate conversions whose information cannot be stored in cookies within the DS and AdWords platforms. This will be done by using modeled conversions, which will use current and historical clicks and conversions data to predict conversions that DoubleClick and AdWords will not otherwise be able to measure under the new protocol. All advertisers will be opted-in to modeled conversions, with the option to opt out. Google has also developed a new Google Analytics cookie (aka the ” _gac cookie”) which will capture data in Google AdWords in a way that is compliant with ITP, working through GA to track advertisers’ GCLID (Google Click Identifier”). This will be dependent on the advertiser’s AdWords account being linked to their Analytics account with auto-tagging enabled and an Analytics tag being in place on their website. For advertisers who do not link their accounts or who disable the new cookie, conversion modeling will be used inside Google AdWords in the same way as in DS.

Implications for Advertisers

Given the unprecedented nature of this change, and the fact that every advertiser will be impacted differently, it is not possible to predict its exact effects, nor how severely it will affect each advertiser on an individual level. However, based on what we do know, several predictions can be made:

(1) Advertisers will almost definitely see a reported drop in conversions vs targets. When this occurs, advertisers who are using a smart bidding strategy may wish to adjust their targets accordingly, and advertisers who are bidding manually should bear in mind that their conversions are most likely being underreported.

(2) Remarketing strategies will be impacted, with advertisers’ retargeting ability becoming limited to a very restrictive 24-hour period on Safari.

(3) Given that these changes will be implemented on an opt-out (not opt-in) basis, it is likely that more advertisers will remain opted-in than will actually intend to do so. As a result, more advertisers will suffer from reporting inaccuracies than if the model were opt-in, and some may not even be aware that changes have been made to their reporting.

(4) There will be no way of knowing what percentage of reported conversions will be accurate, given that we do not know how many users have disabled cookies in their web browsers, nor how this number may change in the future .

(5) On a related note, it will be impossible to measure the accuracy of the estimated conversions since the exact method that will be used to generate them has not been made public. This will especially impact advertisers whose margins, projections and reporting rely heavily on accurate data.

For more information on conversion tracking changes, contact Performics today.

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