Attribution management: impacting the bottom line

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Attribution management is a practice that is starting to get more attention from online marketers, fueled partly by the pressures they are under to make smart decisions on online ad spending.

Attribution is a method of determining which of your online ads lead a customer toward a purchase decision, and pinpointing the level of influence of each of these ads.  Traditional web analytics has been helpful in determining which sites are “sticky,” and which sites draw qualified traffic, but attribution goes a step further by connecting the dots between many types of ad spending – paid and organic search, e-mail marketing, shopping engines and social media included – and the purchase path a consumer travels before making a decision to purchase.

Marketers know that customers rarely travel along a purchase path in a neat, tidy, linear fashion. Typically, they can do up to five searches before getting close to a page to convert, and in the middle of those searches, can look at an e-mail blast promotion, go to a store and look at product in person, and perhaps visit influential social media sites along the way.

The challenge – knowing that consumers act in this somewhat random fashion – is to determine which of these activities had a true effect on a purchase and the relative influence of each. In the past, analytics relied on a “last click” model, assigning 100% of the purchasing influence to the last click a consumer made before purchasing. That method is flawed for two reasons: It inaccurately assigns all the weight to one click in a process that encompasses many clicks; and it ignores the many customer touch-points that lead to a conversion.

Getting Started

While attribution does have complex technology as its foundation, it is fairly simple for a marketer to begin to integrate attribution into campaign management.  Here's how:

First, look at your existing analytics data and examine the average number of visits to a site per conversion.  If it is more than one click, you will benefit from attribution modeling.

Second, determine whether your analytics platform has the technical capability to go beyond last-click analysis.  Make a decision to use your existing application or invest in new attribution and analytics technology.

And third, with current or new analytics technology in place, begin with “even attribution,” the simplest but still ROI-producing level of analysis. If, for example, a sale is $200 and you have run four ads, even attribution assigns a $50 attribution value to each ad.

Even attribution is the first step, but it is a quantum leap in moving beyond last click analysis and beginning to see how all of the ads in your campaign affect conversion.  By applying attribution –  distributing credit for an action or conversion across multiple ads rather than assigning full credit to the most recent ad – marketers can get a far more accurate picture of what activities in their ad spend are paying off, and which are ineffective.  It is no longer enough to tweak keywords and other basic practices. While those are certainly necessary, smart campaign management now acknowledges that consumers traverse through a myriad of channels before making a decision. 

Once you are comfortable and see the positive results of using attribution – finding out which ads are actually profitable! – you can move on to more specific levels of attribution, assigning different weights to online and offline touch-points and further integrating analysis into designing and revising campaigns. 

Attribution management is able to capture all facets of ad spend and give marketers a more holistic and accurate view of the customer experience. It can also give marketers a realistic, predictive model of influence by which to plan future campaign spend. That means you will spend smarter.


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