If you do your own pay per click (PPC) management account, you most likely use the performance reports provided by Google Adwords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, MSN adCenter, or the other advertising service. These reports can be extremely powerful in giving you a very quick overview on the progress of your campaigns for a particular time period. However, there is an important thing that you should understand about where the numbers in these reports come from to truly understand the data. The number of conversions could change over time based on the expiration of the advertisements cookie on a user’s browser.
Google AdWords’ cookie expires after 30 days. This means that if a user clicks on an ad during a Google search a cookie is set on their browser. Even if they leave the website that the ad led them to by going to another website or shutting off their computer/browser, the cookie will track them should they come back to that website and complete a conversion at any time during the next 30 days. So if they come back 15 days later by typing in the website’s URL directly and complete a conversion, in these reports that conversion would be attributed to the PPC ad. However, if they come back 31 days later from a source other than Adwords and complete a conversion, it would not be tracked in Google’s AdWords reports as a conversion. Yahoo! Search Marketing’s cookie lasts for 45 days. You also want to keep in mind that if the user specifically deletes or removes cookies from their browser these expirations do not apply.
Besides the lifespan of their cookies, Google and Yahoo! also differ in how a conversion is attributed in their reports. Google AdWords attributes a conversion to the day the click occurs. Meaning if a visitor clicks on an ad on March 1st but doesn’t complete a conversion until March 7th, the report in Google will show the conversion occurred on March 1st as this is when my initial click happened. Of course, if the visitor returns to the website via another PPC ad, the cookie is reset. Yahoo! Search Marketing attributes the conversion in their report to the actual day the conversion happens. Using the previous example, a Yahoo! report will show the conversion on March 7th, which is the day of the conversion, not the initial ad click. Therefore the number of conversions reported via the Google reports can change for up to 30 days. A report created on March 1st for the February 15-29 date range will likely have fewer conversions than a report created on March 15th for the same February 15-29 date range because these conversions can show up in the past for up to 30 days. In Yahoo! Search Marketing reports, you may see new conversions appear for up to 45 days after the click.
Next time you’re reviewing your pay per click marketing performance reports, be sure to take into account the cookie lifespan of the advertising provider and make sure to understand how conversions are attributed in these reports. These subtle differences may have an effect on how you manage where your PPC marketing dollars go tomorrow!
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