A Solution to the Attribution Riddle Perplexing Today’s Digital Marketer


Consumers are inundated with information and exposed to a brand from countless angles — mobile ads, online banners, email, and social media, just to name a few. With so many digital points of contact, it is hard for marketers to tell which efforts are truly driving sales.

Attribution, the process by which a company assigns credit to the numerous marketing efforts that shepard a customer along the path to conversion, plays a critical role in helping marketers accurately measure their campaigns in order to avoid fruitless efforts and optimize limited budgets. Unfortunately, the length and complexity of today’s online marketing funnel has made attribution a source of anxiety for many digital marketers. As a result, they can get easily waylaid when determining their attribution practices.

Common attribution pitfalls:

Two of the most common attribution pitfalls are the use of last-click attribution and the selection of a poorly tailored look-back window. Let’s quickly explore these pitfalls.

1. Last-click attribution is a way of measuring marketing performance in which all of the credit is given to whatever drove the last click before a conversion takes place. In the modern marketing world, it is inappropriate to use a measurement tool that fails to consider the whole marketing funnel. Last-click attribution overweighs latter efforts and discounts the pivotal touch points along the way.

2. To understand the look-back window, first note that online marketers measure two conversion types: (1) click-through conversions, which occur when a marketing activity encourages a person to click on an ad and eventually convert; and (2) view-through conversions, which occur when a person views an advertisement, doesn’t click, but then eventually converts. Of course, neither conversion is likely to occur immediately. A customer may click or view an advertisement, develop interest, then convert months later.

To account for this lag, marketers select a look-back window to cap the amount of time that can pass between a click or view and the conversion. Conversions that fall outside this window will not be credited to the ad exposure. Selecting the correct lookback window is a tricky task. An excessively long window can overvalue marketing efforts, while a short window may fail to capture some conversions. Additionally, target customers need to be tracked throughout the window, a process that is complicated by the use of multiple browsing devices and cookie deletion.

So what’s a marketer to do?

Fortunately, there are options available to marketers hoping to solve the attribution riddle. Two noteworthy approaches are:

The multi-touch attribution model is an alternative to last-click attribution that surveys the entire customer path and assigns credit to all of the various touches. The perfect multi-touch attribution model would provide a layout of the relative successes and failures of your your various marketing campaigns. So what’s the catch?

Multi-touch attribution can be costly and challenging. Marketers must dedicate a great deal of time and money to testing various multi-touch models. Even for the most sophisticated marketers, there is guesswork inherent in determining how much credit to assign each touch point. Multi-touch models must be constantly tested and reevaluated. Additionally, it is often difficult to track customers across multiple devices.

Another attribution option that has emerged over the past five years is to employ a single-console retargeting platform across the entire marketing funnel. Ad retargeting allows you to selectively advertise to consumers who have already visited your site. This practice allows for easy, accurate attribution. Because retargeting can be implemented across web, mobile, and social, a single campaign will allow you to reach potential customers across multiple touch points and gain insight into the impact of your advertisements.

Retargeting also allows you to measure incremental lift, a key insight into the return on your advertising investment. Incremental lift is the difference between organic traffic — the portion of customers who would have returned to your site and converted organically — and the traffic generated by retargeting. It can be measured through the use of a simple A/B test, in which some visitors are shown retargeting ads and some are not. By running this test, you can measure the incremental conversion rate between the two groups for an accurate depiction of your campaign’s impact.

By using retargeting for attribution, marketers can accurately measure the effectiveness of their efforts up and down the digital marketing funnel. The result is a bigger bang with limited budgets while simultaneously allowing marketers to reach customers across myriad digital touch-points. In a world where data-driven results reign supreme, retargeting attribution is quickly becoming a tool in every marketer’s arsenal.


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