1. A Digital Marketing Depot Research Report
Best Practices for Attribution
Strategy & Modeling
2. Understanding Multi-Channel Attribution
any digital marketers manage their PPC campaigns as though clicks and conversions take place within a
silo, disconnected and unrelated to the customer engagement that occurs across multiple channels. PPC
campaigns are actually tightly interwoven with broader marketing programs that reach prospects and
customers over the entire customer lifecycle, whether on a website, through social media accessed on a mobile
device, in store or on the phone.
Viewing PPC campaigns within the broader context of lifetime customer relationships, and attributing this
information to bid rates and ROI calculations across channels, is crucial to your company’s bottom line. More
accurate attribution allows you to make more effective media buys, which ultimately lead to greater proﬁts. It
can help you more effectively measure your performance against broad objectives, not just against individual
campaigns and keywords.
Yet, creating an accurate attribution model is one of the most difﬁcult parts of any search marketer’s job,
particularly in light of the proliferation of new media channels and audience fragmentation. There are many
questions that are difﬁcult to answer, including:
What role did prior website referrals, searches and ads play in a conversion?
Which metrics should be attributed and how?
How much time passed between the consumer’s initial click and subsequent purchase?
What tools are currently available to help us identify and weight these factors?
The answers come from a combination of PPC software tools that can implement advanced modeling techniques
and the people or partners that know how to make them work.
This EBook discusses why multi-channel attribution has become increasingly important to search marketers and
explores the advantages of using multi-channel attribution to improve the efﬁciency of PPC marketing programs,
as well as how to build an accurate multi-channel attribution model. Digital Marketing Depot and SearchForce
would like to thank the following SearchEngineLand columnists and industry experts for their valuable
contributions to this EBook: David Roth, senior director, search marketing, Yahoo!; Greg Sterling; George Michie,
CEO, Rimm-Kaufman Group; and Dax Hamman, Chief Revenue Ofﬁcer, Chango.
Best Practices for Attribution
Strategy & Modeling
3. Understanding Multi-Channel Attribution
The Value of Multi-Channel Attribution
While paid search has become a key driver of online conversions, the proliferation
of digital marketing channels has created complex interrelationships that can
only be understood with advanced technology. Consumers often browse across
different media channels before they decide to identify themselves as a prospect
or become a customer. Each channel plays a different role in how it inﬂuences the
path that leads to a conversion. For example, many people may purchase on your
site after searching for your brand on Google or Bing. However, they may have
been introduced to your brand via a blog or Facebook brand page, or while seeing
a product in the store or after viewing an ofﬂine ad in print or on TV.
Ad spending is increasing across digital marketing channels as marketers try
to identify and entice their prospects and customers across a widening array of
media choices – a task that has become increasingly difﬁcult. According to digital
research ﬁrm eMarketer, mobile ad spending will grow to nearly $1.23 billion in
2012, while social network ad spending will reach $8.0 billion.
As a result, multi-touch or multi-channel attribution modeling has become a critical
tool for search marketers by offering the following bottom-line beneﬁts:
Better understanding of the relationship dynamics between diverse media channels and the objectives that are
best suited for each.
More accurate analysis and measurement of PPC contribution to ofﬂine conversions.
Less A/B testing costs, as attribution systems help defray the cost of ongoing testing.
Improved management of paid search bids based on which keywords actually close and which assist the close.
A holistic, multi-channel marketing approach that eliminates silos and maximizes ROI.
The Move Away from Last-Click Attribution
Search marketers continue to debate the merits of last-click vs. multi-touch or multi-channel attribution models.
While last-click models emphasize search that occurs deep into the purchase funnel, increasingly, PPC conversions
are inﬂuenced by a series of online clicks and ofﬂine searches that happen a few hours, days or weeks earlier.
Without tracking and analyzing multiple touch points, you can’t get the true ROI of your marketing dollars. As a
result, you might not be fully optimizing your marketing initiatives. According to Microsoft’s Atlas Institute, between
93-95% of audience engagements with digital advertising typically receive no credit at all when marketers review
campaign ROI. That means that most marketers are only looking at ﬁve percent to seven percent of consumer media
interactions when optimizing conversions.
According to a report published by Slingshot SEO in March 2012, the value and potential priority of various digital
marketing channels change when marketers use a multi-touch attribution model, and that many marketers are
placing too much emphasis on the last click as well as the ﬁrst click in the stream of consumer interactions. As a
result, channels such as SEO, paid ads and referrals were being undervalued. On average, consumers took 2.79
interactions before converting, and the last click before the conversion was typically a direct visit to the site or a
branded keyword search.
A multi-touch attribution model allows you to track all user touch points and capture more complete information
about their interactions with your brands. The key is to track all of your digital media in one system, allowing you to
see all of the pathways users took to ultimately convert.
mobile ad spending
will grow to
nearly $1.23 billion
in 2012, while
social network ad
spending will reach
4. Understanding Multi-Channel Attribution
For example, SearchForce features Pathtracker Pixel,™ a universal pixel that
accurately tracks cross-channel events or interactions in the proper sequence.
Consider a scenario where a consumer views a display ad on Monday, clicks a
sponsorship on Tuesday, receives an email from on Wednesday, and comes back
on Friday via a paid search ad and converted. Multi-touch attribution assigns
credit to the entire conversion pathway, not just the last ad clicked.
Multi-touch attribution models are difﬁcult to develop and make effective
primarily because there are so many variables involved. How do you decide
what percentage of the conversion value to give to the ﬁrst interaction vs. the
last when you need to consider the following factors:
Should ad impressions be weighted the same as clicks?
Are clicks from search worth the same as clicks from Facebook?
How does recency effect attribution? Is a click that happened 12 days ago
still worth anything?
Some search marketers believe that a last-click model is the most effective because the search occurs closer to the
conversion. But last-click attribution models don’t follow consumers over extended time periods, or consider the
variety of online inﬂuencers such as email, direct navigation, display ads or even organic search (SEO).
As a result, a signiﬁcant portion of the inaccuracies and oversimpliﬁcations involved in attributing digital media
channels for conversions comes from only counting the last click. If more than one keyword was clicked on the path
to a conversion, did those previous clicks “assist” in that conversion or lead the prospect into your sales funnel? If
so, they should be given some credit. Other keywords function well as “closers,” and convince prospects to take
action. Relying on the last click as a benchmark for success means you could be under-investing in other media that
actually improve results.
Creating an Effective Multi-Channel Attribution Model
Strategy Comes First
The successful use of multi-channel attribution ﬁrst requires a well-planned strategy that includes management
buy-in, evaluation of staff resources and a robust PPC technology platform. Data can only be as smart as the people
interpreting it. Employing an attribution specialist to lead the effort is ideal, although not always doable. Your
marketing organization should conduct an exhaustive analysis of your business and online marketing programs.
Begin with your business goals and product adoption cycles, move on to conversion window analysis and end with
a channel-by-channel audit of both online and ofﬂine marketing.
It is important for statisticians to work hand-in-hand with marketers. Mathematicians without guidance from
marketing experience will build the wrong types of models. Marketers recognize the role that consumer behavior
plays in the correlations between different types of marketing interactions and conversion success.
While some attribution models may be mathematically sound, without buy-in from other departments beyond
the analytics group, they will not be used properly or at all. This is particularly true for large organizations where
marketing channels may be managed across a diverse set of departments and budgets. Many businesses split
management of channels across multiple teams and incentivize marketing managers on performance leading to
internal competition for the same conversions.
that a last-click
model is the most
effective because the
search occurs closer
to the conversion.
5. Understanding Multi-Channel Attribution
Not All Marketing Touches Are Equal
Each marketing impression or touch in the conversion path has a
unique value – and few, if any, are equal. A thirty-second TV spot, a
quality visit to your website, a walk through your brick-and-mortar
business are signiﬁcantly more valuable impressions than exposure to
a print, display or text advertisement.
A paid or organic link on a SERP for a competitive non-brand search
is much more likely to drive incremental business than trafﬁc from
someone searching for “YourTradeMark Coupons” and coming through
an afﬁliate. What creates value is learning what lift can be credited to
each impression, not which ads consumers were exposed to. These
touches shouldn’t all be treated the same, and good attribution systems
need to understand and identify those distinctions.
When solving for attribution, you need to determine the “inﬂuence
potential” of each ad click, impression and site visit by considering the
Ad decay rate
Dollar amount spent
First-time vs. repeat buyer
With this in mind, you can build a model the will predict consumer
decisions as accurately as possible. While human behavior can be difﬁcult
to measure, you can build and test an attribution model that factors in the
‘how’ and ‘where’ someone encountered your product or ad.
Then, test the results of your attribution model. If the model -- which
attributes the predicted behavior to the previous action -- matches the
results, then your model works. If not, you’ll need to tweak it and test
Weighting Attribution Factors
A consumer’s path to conversion is unique for every business. It is
crucial to set attribution weights accordingly to clarify how various
marketing channels – including online and ofﬂine media – interact to
allow your optimization engine to leverage these insights to your advantage.
Even within each marketing channel, it is important to gather the following channel-speciﬁc data to identify the true
value of a click from that channel.
Average Order Value (to normalize the effect of large orders that can skew data)
Number of Channels per conversion
Clicks and average order value can come directly from analytics or the channel tool. Conversion counts come from
isolating the number of conversions attributed to the channel by dividing the number of conversions by the number
of unique channels associated with each conversion.
1. Multi-Channel Attribution Across
The effort to understand which
digital marketing channels, i.e.,
social, display, video, referrals, email,
search, contributed to a particular
conversion (or multiple conversions).
2. Multi-Channel Attribution Across
With the massive adoption of mobile
phones and tablets, consumers are
increasingly “four-screen” people
(TV, desktop, tablets, and smart
phones). That has directly translated
into a more complex fragmented
inﬂuence landscape leading to the
effort to understand how individuals
experience your brand’s digital
existence across multiple devices.
3. Multi-Channel Attribution,
Online to Store.
The effort to understand the ofﬂine
impact driven by online marketing
and advertising. For example,
conversions (i.e., sales, leads or
catalog requests) driven to a retail
store or company call center by the
website, Facebook brand page or
Source: Occam’s Razor blog by
6. Understanding Multi-Channel Attribution
To understand how different marketing channels inﬂuence conversions, begin by looking at standard metrics such
as CTR (clickthrough) and CPA (cost per account), as well as engagement metrics from incoming website trafﬁc such
as time on site, pages visited and the time it takes to convert. It is also helpful to conduct incremental lift studies
to evaluate the percentage of interaction from each channel that is incremental or provides an “assist” to another
channel’s role in conversion.
Search technology can enable these capabilities. The SearchForce platform, for example, provides the following
three basic schemes for assigning credit to each click within a conversion path:
Percentage attribution. With this option, marketers can specify a percentage that’s attributed to the ﬁrst and/
or last click in the path to conversion. Any remaining credit is distributed to all clicks between the ﬁrst and last.
This approach works best for campaigns that generally don’t exceed three to four clicks, because you will be
distributing some credit to mid-stream clicks without spreading them too thinly across too many clicks.
Relative attribution. This method allows marketers to specify a relative decrease in credit based on a click’s
position in the path, i.e., the credit assigned to a speciﬁc click is less for clicks near the beginning of the path. If
you set this percentage to zero, credit will be attributed equally among all clicks. This option is appropriate for
strategies that value the beneﬁt of the last click more highly than others, but still want to assign some credit to
Custom attribution. This approach provides the ﬂexibility to set speciﬁc percentages for each individual click
in the path. This option is a good choice for campaigns in which each click makes a unique contribution to
a conversion, and you want to make sure that these clicks each receive a speciﬁc credit instead of simply
redistributing the remaining credit from other clicks.
7 Metrics to Link Digital Clicks to In-Store Sales
Research shows that a growing number of consumers use multiple channels to make purchase decisions. According
to The Multi-Channel Retail Report, co-sponsored by J.C. Williams Group, bizrate.com and shop.org, 26% of
consumers that visit a store looking for a product subsequently buy that item from a catalog; another 25% of
consumers that visit a store subsequently purchase the product online. In addition, more than two-thirds of catalog
shoppers ultimately purchase a product online, while 39% of website browsers purchase a product from a print
Here are seven metrics to help you accurately track the relationship between online and ofﬂine channels.
1. Online/ofﬂine orders and pick-ups. Track customers who searched and purchased online, then picked up their
purchases in your brick-and-mortar stores.
2. Store locator pages. Provide relevant information like “ﬁnd a store near you,” store hours, directions and phone
numbers in all of your digital campaigns.
3. Time spent on website. The more time someone spends on your website, the more likely they’re interested
in your product or service. Don’t get “too good” at driving online searchers to physical stores; improve your
conversion marketing so the customer is spending more than just his or her time online.
4. Queries with geographic qualiﬁers. Some queries containing geographic qualiﬁers indicate ofﬂine purchase
intent. For example, if someone is searching for a “dentist in West Vancouver” they’re more than likely looking
for a dental appointment in a particular geographic location.
5. Local search. Some Yellow Pages advertisers use dedicated phone numbers for their campaigns. Try doing the
same on the search side. If not, you’re not adequately tracking the campaign’s impact.
6. Promo codes. Create coupons or other online-speciﬁc promotion that’s only redeemable in the store (if
appropriate). Customers can write down or print special codes that they can redeem in-store.
7. Post-purchase surveys. After consumers make online purchases, ask for their feedback through a post-purchase
survey to get more information on buying behavior and ofﬂine impact.
7. Understanding Multi-Channel Attribution
The growing interrelationship between marketing channels is creating new and exciting challenges for search
marketers. Every brand wants to ﬁnd the most effective, proﬁtable marketing mix for its products and services
across all channels. The struggle is to monetize paid search, in terms of accurately measuring its impact on sales
and customer engagement. While this is not a difﬁcult concept to grasp, it is difﬁcult to break down the problem into
actionable tactics that can be readily applied to your PPC programs.
Designing an appropriate attribution model can be complex, but with the right conversion tracking technology,
and by following a set of best practices, you can use conversion data to your advantage to boost performance and
understand your sales channels with more precision and clarity. While there is no standard set of models that will
make sense for every marketer, you can develop a consistent attribution framework that can be applied to each
business problem that will positively affect campaign results.
Remember, multi-channel attribution is no longer a luxury. It is an essential tool for drilling down into conversion
paths to help you optimize performance and determine which strategies work best to create more proﬁt and
Since 2004, SearchForce has been a pioneer in delivering high performance search marketing tools. The company
offers advertisers and agencies one online platform to effectively manage large-scale paid marketing campaigns
across all search engines, including Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Facebook and more.
In addition to bid optimization and campaign management, SearchForce offers cross channel attribution for a more
accurate view on paths to conversion, plus a localized platform that supports multiple languages, time zones and
currencies. Learn more at http://www.searchforce.com
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