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You saw an ad on your laptop at work. Decided to do a quick Google search on the product on your phone at lunch. Then bought it on your iPad at home after dinner.

How’s a savvy online advertiser to know when their ads work?

That’s the problem that Google’s new “Estimated Total Conversions” is designed to solve. Google announced the new AdWords feature today, promising “new insights for the multiscreen world.”

Google’s promise is simple: a holistic view of all the conversions driven by your Google ads. But the project is a one fraught with all kinds of potential minefields.


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Of course, Google is actually in a pretty good position to give advertisers good data.

Fifty percent of the smartphones in the U.S. are Android, and 70 percent globally, so if you visit a product on a smartphone, there’s a good chance Google knows about it. Since you’re very likely logged into Google on that laptop, and almost certainly connected to Google on that phone, Google can put one and one together and come up with two.

It gets more challenging as you add more screens and more platforms, and Google has to do some fancy guesstimation, math, and historical analysis. Google SVP Sridhar Ramaswamy says the company calculates “cross-device conversions using a sample of data from users who signed into multiple devices.”

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The cynical will certainly observe that it’s completely to Google’s benefit to overestimate its ads’ efficacy across platforms, overreport conversions, and over-incentivize ad-buying customers to re-up their contracts or add even more dollars to their Google spend.

Google, of course, is completely aware of this potential perception problem.

The company says it’s analyzed data from thousands of AdWords advertisers to come up with reasonable assumptions and says that on average, advertisers can expect to see 8 percent more conversions with the new metrics, but much more — 33 percent — when the conversion process started on a phone and then migrated to a larger device.


In addition, you can guarantee that the company is being conservative in its estimates, for fear of a few advertisers being data outliers, seeing fewer conversion than Google tells them about, and blowing a whistle. And finally, we all know from personal experience how this happens: You see an ad on your phone, you dig a little deeper on a bigger screen with a full keyboard, perhaps, and you buy.

So estimated total conversions is a concept whose time has come, even if it’s a little tricky to pin down exactly.

In the near future, Google says, it will also add in-store visits and phone calls to the estimated numbers, mostly likely based on data from Google search apps on smartphones. Forty million people call businesses each month directly from Google ads, the company says, and many search for directions as they find a company on Google.

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