When is a Conversion not a Conversion?

Yes, you’re right: there are several possible answers to this question. But the best response (and the one that we’re looking for) is a simple one.

The answer? When it’s an Assisted Conversion.

Exactly what counts as an “assist” will depend on what attribution model you’re using. But if that’s last click (the default in AdWords and Google Analytics), then the assisted conversion you got from your AdWords campaign wasn’t the last click that produced the sale or lead.

No — your AdWords campaign was simply one of the marketing campaigns that your customer or lead interacted with, before they finally purchased or signed up. It didn’t get the goal, in other words, but it played some part towards the score.

While we report on Assisted Conversions, separately of actual conversions, that’s because it’s good to know which paid search keywords, ads, ad groups and campaigns contribute to a conversion, and how often.

We know from experience that some keywords will always just be conversation starters. Others land a first date. Fewer still, when the timing’s right, lead to marriage.


What’s wrong with Assisted Conversions, though? Plenty.

To start, we don’t know how many interactions the conversion took and over what period of time, so the value of any assist can’t easily be quantified.

Our next beef only applies if you’re tracking multiple goal conversions in Google Analytics. If you are, then an “assist” will be any interaction that contributed to any of these conversions whether high value (the sale) or lower value (such as viewing a specific page on the website).

Finally, there’s the little-appreciated fact that a paid search keyword (for example) that gets credit for a conversion may also get credit for an assist. This can happens when a consumer repeats the same or similar search before conversion.

But why are we talking about Assisted Conversions in the first place? Because Google says it will be removing reporting on Assisted Conversions from AdWords.

The news is buried in a chest-thumping brow-beating Inside AdWords blog post published April 17: “Data-driven attribution delivers better results than last-click”.

Not familiar with Data-driven Attribution (DDA)? It’s one of several alternative attribution models you can choose in Google AdWords.

DDA takes a wholly different approach to common rules-based attribution, though: it’s smarter.

Rules-based attribution models are good so far as they go, though. Whichever model you choose you give each interaction credit based on when it occurred in the path to conversion (last click, first click, position-based, or time decay). Or, if you think every interaction deserves to share equally in the credit, you can choose linear attribution.

DDA uses machine-learning to analyse the interactions people have that produce conversions and, based on that analysis, weights conversion credit to each interaction accordingly. Where proponents of Time Decay would argue that the interactions closest to the time of the conversion deserve greater credit, DDA uses real data in assigning credit.

So why aren’t we all using DDA then? It is limited to Google.com search ads only (and not ads on Search Partner sites like Trade Me and Seek). There’s also a minimum requirement of at least 15,000 AdWords clicks and 600 conversion actions over the past 30 days.

Finishing up the contributors’ advice on Data Drive Attribution (DDA), is this tip:
Stop reviewing assisted conversion metrics. In the coming months, we’ll be removing columns that reference assisted conversions from your statistics tables and reports.”

Ironically, this last tip links to an AdWords Support page that recommends including Assisted Conversions in core reporting.

Why should you care?

“In the coming months” is Google shorthand for “we don’t know when but sometime soon (although not necessarily this year)”. It’s also possible that the revision to AdWords reporting will be a gradual one, with rollout dependent on country and/or account size. The change may also be limited to advertisers using DDA.

We don’t know, and Google doesn’t appear to be saying.

What we do know, however, is that we’ll keep reporting Assisted Conversions for as long as the data are still provided through the Google Analytics API. And we note that there has been no mention of removing Assisted Conversions reporting from Google Analytics.

Why continue reporting Assists? Because not every keyword gets the goal: more often than not, it’s a team effort. And when that happens, the team deserves credit, not just the goal scorer.


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About the Author Jeremy Templer

Jeremy is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire. Jeremy has been working in search since 1996, when he joined the Australian search engine, LookSmart. After relocating to San Francisco, he was instrumental in the development of the company’s paid search ad platform. At analytics company Coremetrics (now owned by IBM) he established an in-house search agency managing campaigns for Coremetrics clients such as Macy’s, Bass Pro and Lands End. At Acxiom he managed members of the pioneering SEO firm Marketleap and worked with clients such as Capital One, American General Finance and Kaiser Health. Joining SureFire in 2009, he is the head of Paid Search Advertising and oversees the delivery of AdWords and other PPC campaigns. He also helps clients make sense of their website data.