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How Can I Understand Ad Attribution?

For marketers, advertising goods and services to the public has become an increasingly complicated endeavor. Gone are the days when a business could simply purchase an ad in the local Sunday newspaper and wait for the surge of eager shoppers barging through the front entrance. Now, advertising is a chiefly digital affair, and your campaigns naturally must reflect this basic fact. That’s why so-called “multi-channel” marketing has become a favored strategy.

The idea behind multi-channel marketing is simple: Advertising campaigns need to reach customers across all the platforms and tools commonly used by the public. This includes email, blogs, social media, websites, and even traditional offline venues. 

It is commonly agreed among marketers that casting a wide net in this way produces the best results. You’re more likely to spread awareness of your brand and create working relationships with customers if you target most or all of their favorite haunts, from email to Facebook. But this approach, effective though it may be, has a serious drawback: It can be difficult to determine which ads are generating conversions. Figuring this out requires marketers to have a solid understanding of the concept of ad attribution. 

The Importance of Ad Attribution

To make the most out of your marketing budget, you need to know which ads are performing well, which ads can be improved with a little effort, and which ads should be discarded altogether. If you have multiple ads running at the same time, however, it’s not always clear which ones are getting the job done. A big part of the problem is the complexity of the customer journey.

Sometimes the customer’s path to conversion is quite straightforward. They see an ad for a shiny new product, they click on the image, they arrive on a landing page that displays additional details, they realize on the spot that their life will be enriched by the item, and finally they press the “Buy Now” button to begin the checkout process. 

Usually, though, conversions are the result of a much more circuitous process. A buyer typically views one or more of your ads on multiple occasions, often across multiple platforms, before taking decisive action. Their conversion journey might proceed as follows:

  • The consumer sees one of your ads on Facebook. They look at it for a few seconds before getting on with their day.
  • Then, a few weeks later, the consumer sees another ad of yours, this time on Twitter, which inspires them to visit your website. They search through the site for a few minutes before leaving, having made no purchase. 
  • A week after that, the consumer stumbles upon a Google ad displaying a 20% off deal on your site. They accept your generous offer and reach for their credit card. 

In these kinds of cases, the conversion occurs weeks or even months after the consumer first viewed one of your ads. Various “touchpoints” are passed on the road to the eventual conversion. So how does the marketer know which ad had the most influence on the buyer? 

There is no simple answer to this question, at least none that would apply to all situations. That’s why the marketing community has developed a number of attribution models that advertisers can use to determine the effectiveness of their ads. 

Types of Attribution Models

In marketing, attribution models are used to estimate the relative weight of the touchpoints on a customer’s journey. Commonly employed attribution models include:

First-touch attribution

Also called a first-click attribution model, this gives full credit for a conversion to the first touchpoint on a customer’s conversion journey. No matter how many views and impressions of your ads happened along the way, only the very first touchpoint will count. In the conversion journey outlined above, for instance, the ad on Facebook would receive all the credit for the eventual purchase of the product. 

Last-touch attribution 

Also called a last-click attribution model, this gives full credit for the conversion to the last touchpoint. In the conversion journey above, this would mean that the Google ad would be considered solely responsible for the customer’s purchase.

The previous two models are types of single-touch attribution models. Although they are considered workable options that have the advantage of simplicity, they are rejected by many marketers as providing an incomplete or distorted view of conversion journeys. Marketers who feel this way tend to opt for one of the multi-touch attribution models currently in use. These include:

Linear attribution

This is a very simple multi-touch model that assigns equal weight to every touchpoint in a customer journey. First touchpoint, last touchpoint, and all touchpoints in between are considered to have the same degree of importance in generating a conversion. So if there are four total touchpoints, each will be weighed at 25% value.

Full impact attribution

This multi-touch model—sometimes called any click attribution—assigns 100% credit for a conversion to each and every touchpoint in a customer’s journey. No matter how many touchpoints were detected along the way, each one will receive full credit for the eventual conversion. 

It differs significantly from the linear model, where the amount of credit given to each touchpoint depends on the total number of them. Full impact attribution is excellent for getting a bird’s-eye view of your marketing campaigns to see whether they’re fundamentally working or not, but the model can substantially overreport revenue associated with any particular touchpoint.

The best strategy is to experiment with different marketing attribution models to find which works best for your business. With AdBeacon, you have access to all the conversion tracking tools you need.

Attribution with AdBeacon

AdBeacon is your first-party advertising data solution that leverages the power of the customer information that you have collected, to ensure attribution accuracy. It comes with a suite of single-touch and multi-touch attribution tools that help you pinpoint the ads that work best for generating conversions. These tools include adjustable lookback windows, which serve to free marketers from the limitations imposed by Facebook attribution windows and similar restrictions of the post-iOS 14.5 data privacy landscape. 

Truly data-driven attribution modeling can be a reality with AdBeacon on your side. Sign up for your free 30-day trial with AdBeacon today.