The Challenges of Attribution Modeling

May 9, 2016

The goal of attribution is to make your business feel comfortable that you are putting money into the marketing strategies and channels that collect the highest conversions.

Grasping the concept of attribution modeling is becoming more and more complicated. With the increase in marketing channels and devices, assigning credit to one touchpoint within this mix is very complex, much more so than a few years ago when we worked with rather simple funnels. Many marketing professionals cannot assign credit with confidence to channels or touchpoints within their buyer's journey and this means they cannot say they are spending their budget as wisely as they could be. Good news is, this is an industry wide problem and many companies are in the same boat when it comes to understanding their marketing attribution. In this post we will explain the challenges with attribution and highlight what every marketer needs to know to effectively use their budget.

What is an Attribution Model?

An attribution model determines where credit should be placed in terms of touchpoints that drive conversions in the conversion funnel. Initially companies focused on last-click conversions as being the most important because they were the final touchpoint before the user converted, however, it is becoming clear that there are several touchpoints in the buyer's journey that contribute towards that conversion. When you create an attribution model, you assign a percentage of importance to each step in the conversion funnel. For example, Adwords display advertising may receive 5% because it helps with brand awareness but is very top of funnel, whereas, Facebook retargeting may be assigned 45% because this drives qualified visitors back to the site ready to convert.

You are already doing more than you think

If you are using Google Analytics and you have set up tracking correctly within Google Analytics then you are already doing much more by way of tracking attribution than you think. Google Analytics can tell you how users are engaging with your website, sharing data on metrics such as bounce rate, sessions and conversion rate. This information can help you understand how visitors from each channel are behaving. Visitors from Twitter may have a high bounce rate yet Facebook visitors are much more engaged and convert quickly. Using just these tools, you can see which channels fall where in your user funnel and you can begin to set up a basic attribution model, tying in first-click and last-click.

Best thing about Google Analytics? It is also free. Once you begin delving into the world of complicated attribution modeling software, things can begin to feel very expensive. Play around with what you have for free before exploring paid attribution models.

Don't work in silos

Hopefully your digital teams are already working together, but if not, your attribution tracking will suffer if your teams are working in silos.Here is the root of the problem: digital teams don't like to be told that their specialty has less of an impact on conversions than another. They can become defensive because they want to protect their budgets and status. However, the metrics, data and reports from each digital team need to work together to show each step along the buyer's journey and how it is developing and changing based on new strategies and campaigns.Start by putting each team at ease when it comes to budgetary issues and assign importance to every touchpoint or link in the buyer's journey. Arguably if one link is broken the whole model won't work anyway, so present it as nurturing the entire funnel, not just individual sections of the funnel.For more complex attribution models, you will need the support and alignment of many teams in your company, especially technical support and finance, so introducing a cross-departmental structure to your processes now is a step in the right direction.

Lifetime Value (LTV)

Understanding the lifetime value of a customer is the most important metric within an attribution model. Focusing on the touchpoint that leads to the ultimate conversion undervalues those efforts at the top of the funnel. The top of funnel efforts look much more attractive and important when tracked over time. So assigning a lifetime value to each touchpoint will help you to understand the lifetime importance of each section of your funnel.

Don't settle, test, test, test

As with everything else in digital, testing is the best way to continue to grow and develop your strategies and this goes for attribution modelling as well. There are many factors affecting each layer of your model, including better images or ad copy, so testing the impact of different designs and updates is vital. Just because your attribution model assigns the highest value to one element of your funnel doesn't mean that each layer cannot be consistently improved.

Hopefully this helped to clear up some questions you may have had surrounding attribution modelling. How do you like to measure attribution within your company? Join our conversation over on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Written by
Alexander Rauser
Alexander Rauser


Alexander Rauser is the author of Boardroom Guide to Digital Accountability and Digital Strategy: A Guide to Digital Business Transformation, and creator of the DSX Program, a digital strategy and transformation program for Enterprises.

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