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Google AdWords Cross-Device Tracking Announced

Google officially announced Estimated Total Conversions for AdWords search ads today, which importantly includes estimates for cross-device conversions.  RKG is excited to be testing this new feature and we see it as critical step towards marketers achieving greater clarity into the full impact of their ad campaigns. Google's initial data shows that incorporating cross-device conversions into reporting boosts retail conversion counts by 7%, with slightly larger gains for tech, travel and entertainment.  That's in line with what we have seen.  This isn't a huge increase overall, but the breakdown in how those cross-device conversions are occurring could lead advertisers to shift more of their spending to mobile. The Google announcement notes that cross-device tracking allows travel advertisers to measure 8% more conversions overall, but 33% more conversions for mobile phones.  While travel sites are likely to see some of the largest gains for smartphones under cross-device tracking, advertisers across nearly all verticals can expect phones to reap bigger conversion increases than PCs and tablets. But even if all advertisers see 33% more smartphone orders thanks to cross-device tracking, most will still find desktop and tablet clicks significantly more valuable in terms of direct response.  In our upcoming Q3 2013 Digital Marketing Report, RKG will show smartphone conversion rates running nearly 70% lower than desktop conversion rates.  Boosting smartphone orders by 33% still leaves phone conversion rates about 60% lower than desktop, assuming no change to desktop orders. Direct response orders are just one piece of the larger value of search advertising, however.  Incorporating additional data into estimated total conversion tracking like in-store visits and phone calls will provide even greater insights to advertisers, so it's great to hear that Google is already working on providing that flexibility.

New data which informs the broader value of search is extremely valuable, but at first glance it can raise concerns that it is being provided merely to inflate search spending. Advertisers should be heartened by the fact that Google is proceeding cautiously with their cross-device estimates. For this release, we believe Google is making a long-term play to benefit advertisers with hard data to support their cross-device conversion counts:
  1. Google directly owns the data to connect same-user behavior across devices. We all know it exists and it's easy to grasp how the matching takes place on their back end.  The tracking mechanisms are also so similar to existing paid search tracking, that it increases the credibility of any data reported across devices.
  2. In following up with Google, we were given greater confidence in the statistical rigor they will put behind the reported cross-device conversions. As mentioned in the prior point, these numbers are built on a solid tracking methodology. In addition, we're told that Google will only report on numbers that surpass statistically significant confidence thresholds. If those don't exist, no data will be reported.
Agile advertisers will be quick to incorporate the new cross-device insights into their overall performance matrix to maximize exposure and media investment, although there will still be some hurdles ahead.  Google's conversion tracking provides a view of results that may not fit exactly with the advertiser's ideal, which often includes considerations for multichannel interaction and keyword type.  The more granular the cross-device data Google can provide, the more helpful it will be to informing specific ad investment decisions.
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