October 17, 2013, 5:02 PM

Google gives marketers power to open or close attribution windows

Previously, if a consumer purchased within 30 days of clicking on a paid search ad, Google called that a conversion. Now marketers get to set the conversion window, explains the CEO of digital marketing firm Sidecar.

The 30-day conversion window has been a staple in Google AdWords—and the many other digital ad platforms trying to model themselves after it.  But that’s all about to change, now that Google has announced that advertisers can narrow the window down to just seven days, or open it wide, up to 90.

 So what does this mean for online retail advertisers?

 Different marketing channels have different sales cycles.  Some channels might inspire a purchase immediately after an ad click; others could take days, weeks, or even months to convert from ad click to sale.  The 30-day window, while previously accepted as the industry norm, made it hard to calculate the true ROI of channels. 

 By studying the time to purchase of consumers who engage with AdWords, retail advertisers can now determine an average purchase window that makes sense for AdWords.  For example, with the old feature, if a purchase were made eight days after the AdWords ad was clicked, it would be easy to attribute this to the AdWords engagement.  But with the new feature, if we know that a click from AdWords typically results in a sale in seven days, with the attribution window adjusted accordingly, that eighth-day purchase might be attributable to something else. Or, if we know that it can take as much as 60 days for a conversion, this new feature allows us to attribute that sale on day 56 to the initial AdWords engagement, because for this particular product, the purchase requires more planning and consideration.  Think of it like playing Goldilocks in the digital marketing world: one window might be too small, another too big—but one will almost certainly be just right.

Slicing and dicing your data

The above hypotheticals tell you what the new conversion window change can mean for retail marketers, but not why it matters.

 With so many places for digital marketers to invest (AdWords, display, SEO, social,  etc.), it’s essential to be able to connect ad spend with results. 

Because the online retail market operates under fierce competition and in nearly-real time, these retailers—and their marketing teams—need the flexibility to align their attribution windows with the nature of their businesses and products, therefore allowing them to not only give credit where it’s due, but also re-allocate ad dollars quickly, when something clearly isn’t working. Retail advertisers can now play with the window, opening or closing as necessary, and adjusting marketing spend accordingly.

In some ways, you could argue that Google is doing themselves a disservice by allowing advertisers to shorten the window, as it may become apparent that AdWords in fact wasn’t as effective as advertisers had thought all along. However, by giving advertisers this level of granular control, they are empowering them to make better decisions, and therefore, fostering a more sophisticated advertising environment—and engendering trust and loyalty.

No longer one timeframe to rule them all

Google’s decision to let marketers set their own windows—within reason—shows that the company is aware of how consumers are shopping online, and how marketers need to capture this behavior.  Much as its new Gmail tabs feature shows that the company understands the best time to reach potential shoppers via email, this change shows that Google is advancing its understanding of how buying decisions are being made; when consumers engage with various channels; and what information e-commerce sites need to glean from these decisions in order to keep investing in the Google network.  It would have been easy for Google to keep the 30-day conversion window in AdWords, and marketers would have gone along with it, at least for the time being.  But this change shows a real willingness on Google’s part to grow with its customers.  And, with other sites like Facebook offering as narrow as a one-day window, perhaps it shows Google’s desire to keep up with, and even surpass, the options offered by competitors.

Sidecar provides automated systems for managing paid search, comparison shopping sites, on-site personalization and personalized e-mail marketing.

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