Attribution: Google & AOL Got it Right…and That’s Wrong


ADOTAS — In May, Google announced its acquisition of Adometry, while AOL announced its purchase of Convertro.

Both companies are working toward the same goal with these acquisitions: understanding marketing attribution.

Marketers have always sought to understand exactly how consumers flow through the conversion funnel. They want to know which among their marketing activities contributed to sales, whether directly through a call-to-action or indirectly by increasing brand preference or purchase intent.

My own company works to help brands better understand the impact of their marketing campaigns. Just like every other marketer out there, I’ve always been interested in getting past the last click attribution model and really combining the data. It’s a hard thing to do, and it’s an even harder thing to do right.

So why has marketing attribution become so complex today?

  • Marketing Channel Complexity: Twenty-five years ago, when marketers operated in a limited range of channels – TV, print, radio, direct mail, and promotions – attribution was simpler and much less data-driven. Marketing research’s best hunch was probably correct. Not so anymore.
  • Better Marketing Analytics Technology: Only in the last few years have we developed the technology to effectively calculate marketing attribution based on real-time marketing data attribution models.
  • Last Click Attribution Isn’t Good Enough: The simplest and earliest form of digital marketing attribution is ‘last click attribution’. Given the quantity and range of marketing channels and platforms, last click attribution is no longer a good enough measure of marketing attribution. Path analysis is key.
  • Attribution Means Confidence: The science behind marketing attribution enables marketers to gain the respect their department deserves from the rest of senior management. Gone are the days of pure concept; we have arrived in an age of measurable results – very measurable results.

Google and AOL were right to make their acquisitions in order to improve the efficacy of their marketing solutions.

But to truly understand the marketing attribution big picture, marketers and agencies need transparency. They need to divorce marketing attribution from media/marketing spend.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, let me put it one way: Would you invest money in a company whose entire board of directors was comprised of company employees? Would you expect a board member who happens to be VP of Marketing to be critical of the marketing program that she authorized?

Or, let me put it another way: The US Constitution established three branches of government – the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch, and the Executive Branch – to provide for a separation of powers. Each branch has its own responsibilities and can also use its powers to check the powers of the other two branches – checks and balances. Would anyone want the president to also decide on the judicial merits of a law or to be solely responsible for passing laws?

But that’s exactly what happens when Google or AOL add attribution to their suite of marketing solutions.

In 1914, advertisers, agencies and publishers in North America identified the need for authenticated circulation figures from print publishers and established the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC – now known as the Alliance for Audited Media in light of the fact that digital paid and earned media are also being audited).

Marketers and agencies need attribution, but they need to place attribution as the final stage in the customer’s journey and as part of an analysis of their omnichannel marketing activities.

It’s great that marketers will be getting attribution from Google and AOL now, but they also need it from an independent body like the Alliance for Audited Media and to be able to check/modify attribution paths and models themselves across all media – not just ads served via Google or AOL.

Beyond making objective and transparent attribution a primary goal for the entire ad tech ecosystem (including VCs, entrepreneurs, advertisers and agencies), we need to break down the siloed data to ensure that marketers and agencies apply a channel-agnostic perspective to ad vehicles. Today, too many companies focus on too few marketing channels – usually just one, or at most a few. This is a must-have if we are to progress as an industry.


  1. Good article Ran. I think you are wrong though. I am VP Product for Convertro so I can tell you first hand that there should be no concern regarding neutrality. I started writing my own response to tell you about the Chinese walls that we have between media and ad-tech but I think this interview with Toby CEO of ONE by AOL summarizes it.
    “Are there concerns about Convertro’s objectivity since AOL both runs the media campaign and measures it too?
    It’s something we’re quite cognizant of. But our entire technology stack –, ONE by AOL and obviously Convertro – is inventory-agnostic. If you’re an customer, you don’t have to buy a single impression from AOL. We are simply providing you software to allow you to manage your media business. If you choose to purchase inventory from AOL, that’s great but it is by no means a requirement and it’s not favored in our system or anything of that nature. AOL Platforms will increasingly be viewed as an agnostic provider of technology and obviously Convertro fits right into that. Certainly it can measure and provide insight on AOL inventory, but there’s no preferential treatment at all.”


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