Attribution

Sections in Chapter 5:

Cross Channel

How to attribute advertising credit across multiple channels.

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Models

How to track multiple advertising touchpoints on the consumer journey.

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Third Parties

How to use third party click tracking partners to verify campaign data.

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Windows

How to select an appropriate attribution window that will yield actionable results.

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Multi-touch Attribution

Collecting Data from Multiple Advertising Channels

Attribution is the process of assigning credit for conversions to different marketing channels. Since modern consumers browse across more channels, formats and devices than ever before, multi-touch attribution is a crucial component of advanced marketing analysis. Advertisers using multiple channels or multiple competing advertising solutions rely upon accurate attribution information to gauge the success of their campaigns and determine how to effectively spend their advertising budgets.

Attribution and Tracking Options

To determine which advertising channel or platform led to a conversion and make an attribution, an advertiser must be able to track consumer behavior. Most digital advertising solutions provide built-in tracking functionality, and many advertisers choose to rely on that conversion data. Other advertisers choose to track their advertising efforts exclusively with third-party tracking platforms and the data that they provide. Still other advertisers choose to compare platform-specific tracking data against third-party tracking data to confirm accuracy.

Scoring, Cookies and Attribution Technology

There are multiple different ways for advertisers to track digital consumer behavior. The most common tracking method is by using cookies. Cookies are small bits of text that are automatically downloaded in consumers’ browsers as they browse the internet. Once cookies have been downloaded, they can record valuable advertising information such as which consumers viewed, clicked on or interacted with an advertisement. Cookies, however, are extremely limited because they can be deleted and they don’t usually transfer across devices. In an increasingly multi-device world, cookies alone cannot completely represent consumer browsing behavior as consumers interact with different formats on different devices over the course of the day. A more precise tracking method for tracking consumer behavior is called scoring. Scoring is a process that creates detailed, anonymized profiles of consumers based on their browsing histories. Scoring matches anonymized consumer behavior across multiple devices and formats, even if consumer delete their cookies, and offers a far more precise cross-channel tracking solution.

Cross Channel Attribution and Advanced Marketing Analysis

Since modern consumer behavior spans so many devices, channels and formats, it is impossible to develop a marketing strategy by looking at a single marketing channel. Without an attribution tool that can shine a light on the entire marketing funnel, it is impossible to measure the relative performance of different marketing channels that jointly take credit for conversions. Therefore, it can be difficult to properly attribute credit to different marketing channels and allocate marketing budget efficiently according to performance. Modern consumer tracking technology must illuminate the whole marketing funnel to show the impact of all digital marketing channels on consumers’ conversion journeys so that advertisers can visualize all the touchpoints of all of their digital marketing channels, develop an optimized attribution window and appropriately allocate budget to each marketing platform according to conversion efficiency.

Touchpoints and Attribution Models

Touchpoints and the Consumer Journey

Touch points are the multiple times that a user sees an advertisement for a particular product. When clients use multiple channels to advertise, it is extremely valuable for them to understand the touch points of the consumer journey so they can compare the effectiveness of their various advertising channels. The average number of touchpoints required to drive a conversion varies widely by product. Prospecting advertising campaigns are designed to serve as the first touch point on the consumer’s journey. Retargeting advertising campaigns are designed to serve middle and later touch points on the consumer’s journey. Some touch points such as email, referral, TV commercials, or physical advertisements are difficult to track, while others such as clicks are explicitly recorded. Different clients ascribe different value to touch points depending on where they fall in the consumer’s journey, but generally the intermediary touch points are ascribed little value. The final conversion is usually considered the most important touch point, typically followed by the first impression. A complete attribution model should show each and every touch point from the first impression to the final conversion

The Importance of an Accurate Attribution Model

Attribution modelling is critically important because different attribution models assign ‘credit’ for impressions served and conversions driven based on different evaluations of the relative importance of different touchpoints.

Different Attribution Models

Unfortunately, the conversion process is far more complicated than the single, final touchpoint. There are a number of basic models that attribute credit for conversion to different steps along the continuum of conversion. The most common attribution model used to represent attribution is the ‘last click attribution model’ that assigns all attribution credit to the final ‘direct’ touchpoint that led to the conversion.

Understanding Attribution Cases

Attribution practices vary widely from advertiser to advertiser. Depending on the attribution parameters defined, attribution data will vary widely. When examining attribution data, it is crucial to understand which attribution model your business is using and which attribution models all of your partners are using. The following are a few helpful explanations for understanding some commonly encountered (and regularly confusing) attribution scenarios:

Prospecting Campaigns and First Touch

In the context of a prospecting campaign, a first touch is defined as a brand or product impression that leads a new user to the client’s website. While not all first touches lead to immediate conversion, they are crucially important for building a user base at the top of the marketing funnel. Strong prospecting campaigns pave the way for successful retargeting campaigns by establishing a user base that can later be retargeted with specific campaigns and advertisements.

Organic and Search as First Touch Points

In some cases, advertisers will find that most of their first touch points are organic search. Normal businesses that are not famous brands often get 30 – 35% of their traffic from organic or search. For these businesses, retargeting campaigns are often more efficient for increasing conversion rates. Unexpectedly high proportions of organic or search traffic may result from a relatively strong search-engine optimization (SEO) program and weak marketing program.

Prospecting Campaigns and Last-Click Touch

In some cases, prospecting campaigns will deliver advertisements that are attributed as ‘last-click’ touch points (i.e. conversions). In some case, this happens because a consumer directly converts right away. In other cases, an advertiser client will define a new user base for a new marketing channel, which will not allow them to exclude previous site visitors. Finally, depending on the definition of new users, some consumers may take an unusually long time between first and last click to convert and fall outside of the defined consumer activity parameters and be incorrectly labeled as a ‘new’ customer.

Direct Conversion

A direct conversion occurs when a user visits a website and converts without leaving the website, regardless of the length of the session. In some cases, direct conversions occur when a browser is left open while a shopper shops elsewhere. Typically, direct conversions occur in the bottom of the marketing funnel and are catalyzed by late-funnel advertising solutions such as retargeting campaigns.

Third Party Confirmation

Why is Third Party Confirmation Important?

Third party tracking confirmation is necessary for confirming conversion attribution for any individual advertising channel. While each individual advertising channel, platform or partner will usually provide an internal tracking tool and furnish conversion reports, these reports describe each channels performance and therefore paint an incomplete picture that should be supplemented by data from at least one more source. Google Analytics is one easy option for third-party tracking confirmation, and there are many other options available.

Attribution Synchronization

Ideally, synchronization of attribution models would ensure that different tracking systems gather the same impression, conversion and consumer data. Different platforms, however, often return different types of data and thereby require different attribution models. Therefore, it is often impossible to use exactly the same attribution model across all channels. If different tracking platforms use different attribution models (i.e. attribute credit to selective advertisements based on particular touch point parameters), they will attribute credit to different sources. It is unrealistic to use an identical attribution model across all parters, but it is important to understand the relative differences between different attribution models in order to compare channel performance. While it is unlikely that data will ever match identically between platforms, it should be similar enough to clearly indicate campaign effectiveness.

Third Party Click Tags

A third-party click tag is a parameter that is applied to a particular clickable component of a website that enables a third-party to track how many times that component is clicked. A third-party click tag can take two forms: a click-through URL that is served as a redirection or a third-party internal operation that is registered once a user clicks on an ad. Click tags are also applied to attribute click-through conversion to a particular advertisement. Third-party click tag providers can be used to verify click-through rates and conversion and advertisement conversion rates.

Third Party View Tags

A third-party view tag is a third-party internal operation that tracks user impression data. A view tag is similar to a click tag but instead of collecting information about what a user clicks, it collects information about what a user views. Depending on the type of ad inventory in which the advertisement is being served, a number of viewability metrics (including data about mouse over and focus) are also available.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics was designed as a general platform to track activity across a website and it is the most powerful and widely used third-party tracking option. Google Analytics attaches small pieces of code called UTMs (Urchin Tracking Modules were developed by Urchin Software Corporation before it was acquired by Google in 2005) to website URLs to track various types of activity on websites. Since UTMs enable Google Analytics users to compile data about conversions and user activity, Google Analytics has become a favorite tool among digital clients who want to develop a general idea of how digital marketing campaigns are performing. 

Google Analytics Data Tracking

Google Analytics cannot track any type of view-through data. Advertisers using Google Analytics can view data about the advertising source, average user time on the website and average number of pages viewed on the site. 

Google Analytics Conversion Verification

Google Analytics only tracks conversions when they are specifically defined in the Google Analytics platform. To compare Google Analytics conversion data with channel-specific conversion data, it is crucially important to specify the same campaign objectives across both platforms. Due to different attribution methodologies, however, it is unlikely that Google Analytics data will never perfectly align with channel-specific data or third-party data.

Google Analytics New User Tracking

Technically Google Analytics can track new users, but it important to understand how Google Analytics defines new users. Other third-party tracking services may even define new users as users who have not visited the client’s site in their entire lifetime.

Attribution Windows

View-Through Conversion Attribution Windows

The view-through conversion attribution window is a metric particular to video advertising that records instances when users view advertisement videos and then later return and convert. While many users view ads as pre-roll before premium content and are unlikely to click away from the featured video, a large number of them return later in the hours and days following the initial impression. For advertisers who want to track the impact of their video advertisements at the top of the funnel, view-through conversion attribution offers valuable insight into consumer behavior. View-through conversion tracking is always ‘loose’ because it can measure whether a video is playing but not necessarily whether or not a viewer is paying attention or how much information they are absorbing. 

Using View-Through Conversion Data

View-through conversion (VTC) attribution can be a powerful performance metric after the first week of a campaign both because it can indicate how effective the campaign is at moving new prospects down the full funnel to a conversion (as opposed to merely driving traffic to a website) and also because it is a reliable indicator of the true conversion rate. VTC information can be extremely helpful to advertisers in evaluating ROI, CPA and VTC attribution.

Click-Through Attribution Windows

The click-through attribution window is the amount of time between the moment when the user clicks an advertisement and the moment when a user converts. Click-through conversion is the most important metric for video advertisements because it provides insights into average conversion time, repeat purchase behavior and customer lifetime value. Unlike view-through conversions, click-through conversions are easily trackable in platforms like Google Analytics.

Market Conditions that Affect the Click-Through Attribution Window

Many different factors influence click-through conversions rates and these factors are taken into consideration during pre-launch analysis. The most common factors are:

Seasonal user behavior change

Depending on the target audience, consumers may be more or less likely to purchase quickly from season to season.

Product seasonality

Depending on the function of the product, sales cycles may naturally fluctuate from season to season (e.g. ski equipment).

Marketing or strategy change

A significant increase or shift in marketing efforts may bring about a significant shift in consumer behavior and engagement.

Website workflow change

Changes in a website typically impact the way that consumers interact with the website and purchase products.

Product change

When a product is redesigned or reintroduced, sales volume and frequency often change.

Sales growth

Overall sales growth alters the supply chain and impacts purchase frequency.

Internal Factors that Affect the Click-Through Attribution Window

The click-through conversion (CTC) window is determined by both the quantity and the quality of consumer ad impressions. While targeting technology can increase the quantity of consumers to which advertising content is exposed, only quality advertising content, a user-friendly advertising website and a quality product can ensure the quality of these impressions. Quality creative content with a clear call-to-action, a relevant promotional landing page and a logical site workflow are all necessary to convert site visitors.

Understanding Direct Response

Direct response occurs when an advertisement leads to a website conversion without the consumer leaving the website over a pred-defined length of tim. Direct response conversion is unusual, particularly in prospecting campaigns, but represents an ideal scenario for campaign efficiency.

Choosing the Ideal Attribution Window

The ideal attribution window should be based upon the average consumer conversion lifecycle length, the conversion rate of the advertiser’s website and the amount of different touchpoints, formats and devices contribute to the average conversion. Some advertisers may know much of this information, but those who don’t can use existing market data to begin to test for this information prior to the launch of a campaign and then optimize their campaign once sufficient data has been collected. To choose an ideal attribution window for a given advertising channel, an advertiser should consider all of their advertising efforts on other channels.