What Do YouTube’s TrueView for Action Updates Mean for Marketers?

Video has played an increasingly important role in the life of digital marketers over the past few years. As digital marketers have become more familiar with in-stream video advertising, new insights and opportunities have emerged.

YouTube has been the mainstream platform of choice for in-stream online video advertising, but Facebook entered the in-stream video advertising arena relatively recently and with its targeting and measurement accuracy, already poses a serious threat to YouTube’s previously uncontested dominance. This has caused Google to rethink how they position YouTube to avoid Facebook running away with the market.

Google has historically positioned YouTube as an awareness channel, but with the mounting pressure from Facebook and the demands of advertisers looking to find more channels to acquire customers, it’s clear that YouTube is transitioning from an awareness channel to looking a lot more like a direct response channel.

YouTube TrueView for action ads are a prime example of Google’s attempt to turn their video property into a performance marketing engine. And now, TrueView for action ads have gotten some attribution updates to help better align user behavior with reported performance.

What are TrueView for action ads?

TrueView for action campaigns add prominent CTA (call-to-action) banners at the base of your TrueView video ads on YouTube, which help drive leads and conversions. The branded banner can be tailored to a specific action goal such as “Book now,” “Get a quote” or “Learn more.”

TrueView for action campaigns are useful as they allow you to optimize towards specific conversion events. TrueView for action can help you move your customers along the path to purchase by encouraging actions like scheduling an appointment or requesting more information.

To understand how video works in the purchase journey, it’s important to have accurate attribution – and when looking at the relationship between video ad exposure and conversions, YouTube determined that the default attribution window for TrueView for action ads needed to change.

Background Info

Before we get into the changes, let’s bring up a refresher on the definitions of engagements and conversions and how they are counted.

An ‘engagement’ is when a user views your TrueView for action ad for a set minimum amount of time or clicks on the ad.

Once an engagement is completed and the viewer goes on to complete a given conversion action (within the conversion attribution window), then it is counted as a ‘conversion’ under the ‘Conversions’ column within Google Ads reporting.

A user must interact with an ad in order to generate a conversion, but as a reminder there are 3 different types of conversions that can be generated depending on the user interaction with the video ad:

  1. Click-through conversions (CTC): Counted when a user clicks on one of the interactive ad elements and then converts within the conversion attribution window set within Google Ads’ conversion settings (default window is 30 days).
  2. Engaged-view conversions (EVC): Counted when a user views your ad for at least 10 seconds (or watches the entire ad if it is less than 10 seconds) and then converts within the conversion attribution window set within Google Ads’ conversion settings (default window is now 3 days, see below to read changes made from the previous window of 30 days).
  3. View-through conversion (VTC): Counted when a user sees your ad for less than the time needed to count as an engagement (such as viewing for 5 seconds and skipping) and doesn’t click on it, but goes on to convert within the conversion attribution window (default window is 24 hours).

An engagement (watching for a set minimum amount of time or clicking on the ad) needs to occur in order to be counted as a conversion that is reported in the the ‘Conversions’ column.

However, let’s say a user doesn’t engage with the ad (meaning they don’t watch at least 10 seconds or click on the ad) but they still go on to convert. Do they still count as a conversion?

Yes, that conversion is still counted – but that user gets counted as a view-through conversion and is reported in the ‘View-through conversions’ column, which is separate from the ‘Conversions’ column in the campaign reporting.

Your ‘View-through conversions’ column tells you when customers see, but don’t engage with your ad, and then later complete a conversion on your site. This is different from the data in your ‘Conversions’ column.

You may be wondering, if VTCs have their own column, where are CTCs and EVCs reported? CTCs and EVCs are included in the ‘Conversions’ column because the user had to interact with the ad and then converted; when the user doesn’t interact or engage with the ad but still converts, they get reported as a VTC in the separate ‘View-through conversions’ column. This is not new nor part of the new attribution changes.  

Now let’s actually get into the attribution changes.

What’s Changing?

Google is reducing the amount of time needed for a YouTube video view to count as an “engagement,” which means there is now a lower threshold for what is considered a conversion due to the definition of engaged-view conversions.

YouTube will now count ‘engagements’ as whenever a user clicks on an ad or watches 10 seconds (or the entire video if it’s shorter than 10 seconds) of a TrueView for action ad instead of requiring a user to watch 30 seconds, which was the previous threshold.

Along with this change in engagement window, YouTube is also shortening the conversion attribution window. It used to be that ‘conversions’ were counted if someone watched at least 30 seconds of an ad and converted within 30 days. However, Google has now shortened the default window to count conversions from 30 days to just 3 days.

Note that you can always reach out to your Google team to increase this new conversion attribution window if it’s not in alignment with your business or conversion cycle. You might want to do this if most actions in your conversion cycle are historically taken after 3 days, meaning that this shorter default window would result in fewer conversions for your business.

This change in default attribution window will only affect engaged-view conversions. There are no changes to the click-through conversion attribution window. Click-through conversions will still be attributed according to your chosen click-through conversion window (default is 30 days) within Google Ads.

View-through conversion attribution will also stay the same. So when a user sees your ad for less than 10 seconds and doesn’t click, but still goes on to convert on your site, those view-through conversions will still be attributed according to your chosen view-through conversion window (default is 24 hours).

How Will These Changes Affect Advertisers?

This attribution change could have a significant impact on conversions as they are defined within Google Ads reporting. Performance will likely appear very different (better) if you are looking at Google data as the “source of truth” for reporting, since the bar for conversions has been lowered with the shorter engagement requirement of 10 seconds.

That being said, there is a trade-off that balances out the now shorter engagement threshold of 10 seconds (which will likely lead to more conversions being reported) with the now shorter conversion attribution window of 3 days (which will likely lead to fewer conversions being reported). This is all assumptive for now, and may not hold true for every advertiser.

The net impact of these changes will depend on the duration of your videos, how long your videos are viewed by your target audience, and how long viewers take to ultimately convert on your website or app. It will also depend on whether you consider Google conversion data as the source of truth for your reporting.

If you consider Google conversion data as your source of truth, then you should see better performance and your optimization workflow will probably not change much since it’s all closed loop within Google Ads. Given that TrueView for action campaigns require using Google Smart Bidding options, you will likely see faster ramp up times (since there should theoretically be more conversions coming through with the lowered engagement window).

If you are like most marketers and have a hybrid workflow where your internal data is the source of truth but you map that internal performance data with Google data to take advantage of in-platform reporting and optimization, you will likely see see the biggest impact. This new attribution will likely require a realignment between conversions as reported within Google and what is reported within your backend system to make sure the two are in sync.

Given that TrueView for action campaigns are optimized towards conversions via Google Smart Bidding options, they will continued to be billed on a CPM basis so there is no major impact expected here.

That being said, depending on the performance that advertisers experience with these new changes, it could have an impact on overall auction pricing which could impact CPMs over time.

In Summary

Engagements will now be counted whenever a user clicks or watches 10 seconds or more of your TrueView for action ad instead of 30 seconds.

Engaged-view conversions will now be counted whenever a viewer goes on to convert within a default window of 3 days of an engagement, instead of the previous window of 30 days.

It remains to be seen how these changes will impact advertisers, and it will largely depend on your reporting source of truth and optimization workflow.

As Google continues to compete for advertisers’ business against Facebook, we expect the YouTube platform to continue to evolve towards a direct response channel. There’s no doubt that YouTube, with its 1.8 billion active users, can drive significant brand awareness and reach benefits. But leveraging YouTube video ads for direct response advertising has proven to be a challenge for digital marketers. We’ll have to see if these new measurement changes help improve that.