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On the Path to Creating a More Progressive Attribution Model

On the Path to Creating a More Progressive Attribution Model Danny Kourianos
Ask any online marketer about their latest campaign and you’ll likely hear their results in the form of performance metrics such as click-through-rates, impressions, and of course, post-impression conversions.

These numbers provide vital insights into the campaign elements that worked (and those that didn’t). Yet when it comes to determining attribution, we all know there’s a wide margin of ambiguity.

Regardless of how much the online ad industry has evolved over the past 15 years or so, we’re still challenged by the lack of an indisputable, clear-cut method to determine attribution.

For example, many advertisers today still rely on a last-click attribution model, which overlooks the reality that, most likely, multiple touch points influence each sale. An improved method others have adopted is a hybrid model that credits the various channels involved in the sale. While this is certainly a huge improvement, it doesn’t paint the most accurate picture or give insight into which marketing channel is performing best.

This is why the industry needs greater transparency across every marketing channel. When presented with a more comprehensive view of performance across the board, you can see overlap, more accurately assess ROI and attribute proper credit for a sale.

As the industry continues to evolve, here are five performance indicators to consider in the quest for a more comprehensive attribution model.

1. Consider Every Path to Conversion

If you’re like most advertisers, you find that as you uncover more ways to reach consumers online through various marketing channels and devices, it becomes even more challenging to get a single version of the truth.

As you break down attribution, consider every path to conversion. This includes online influences such as a branding campaign, high traffic volume from an affiliate publisher, or activities in social media. But the metrics used to measure these campaigns are not at all parallel – clicks vs. impressions vs. followers. Having transparency into where and when these channels touched the consumer will increase your understanding of how channels work together so you can better weigh the influence of each.

2. Track the ROI from Each Channel

With a better understanding of how each channel contributes to the sale, you will gain a better understanding of ROI, helping you make strategic decisions about how to allocate budgets for future campaigns. A key component of this is understanding the value of the consumers each channel is driving. Does one channel drive more new to file while another drives users with great lifetime value? Answering these questions will help you determine which channels should get a greater share of your overall marketing budget.

3. Measure Engagement

Ah, there’s that ambiguous “engagement” word. In this context, engagement should be measured in such a way that marketers can determine that the user did in fact see the ad and even responded to it. 

Tracking engagement also enables a post-engagement conversion model that gives advertisers a more accurate view of campaign influence, and more confidence in attributing sales to display.

4. Focus on ROI First, Payments Second

To create more transparent attribution models, advertisers should focus on the ROI first and the payments second.  

An ideal attribution formula goes something like this: X, Y and Z were involved in the sale and all will be credited. If you consider that one of those channels may be delivering a stronger ROI over the course of a campaign, you’ll want to reward them accordingly. This way, you can continue to increase the return from your most lucrative marketing channels.

5. Apply Journalism’s Five W’s and an H

Every journalism student or passing fan of newsroom dramas understands the five W’s and one H to get to the heart of any story. It comes down to the who, what, where, when, why, and how, and attribution is no different. If you want to refine attribution by gaining greater visibility into your campaign performance, take a closer look at:

  • Who: The vendor that’s involved in the sale and the extent of their contributions.

  • What: The sales assets provided for the ad (e.g., free shipping, discount code, video, user reviews)

  • When: The time lapse between a consumer seeing an ad and making a purchase (e.g., an impulse sale purchase vs. a high-cost electronic with a longer lead time and more layers of influence).

  • Where: The marketing channel(s) used to attract the consumer (e.g., display, email, social, search).

  • Why: The campaign objective (new user acquisition vs. lifetime value)

  • How: The campaign strategies (e.g., prospecting, retargeting, loyalty, etc.).


Incorporating these five performance indicators into our attribution models will improve transparency and shed cloaked metrics from our marketing partners. It also adds in the much-needed dimensions of engagement and branding, which are critical to understanding online advertising performance.

As the vice president of product development at Rakuten MediaForge, Danny is passionate about developing products that create real and measureable value. Danny brings more than 10 years of experience in the display ad industry to the Rakuten...

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