The problem with click-based attribution

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A recent study by Econsultancy and Google Analytics indicates that a majority of marketers are still using last-click attribution to measure performance-oriented campaigns. But at the same time, marketers are realizing that it is ineffective at gauging the true influence campaigns have on the consumer's path to conversion. For online video campaigns, be it advertising, email, or on-site, last-click attribution suffers from similar inaccuracies.

To quote Morpheus, it seems that many marketers are still on the blue pill.

Marketers know something is wrong with last-click attribution, but they still view the world through this lens. And while ignorance is bliss for many in "The Matrix," for marketers, it can be a bane to budgets and returns. Because evaluating campaigns and understanding cross-campaign interactions are critical in assigning budget and planning the marketing mix, companies embracing video strategies employ a different approach.

Attribution modeling

Last-click attribution assigns the entire value of a conversion to the last campaign the consumer clicked prior to converting. Naturally, last-click attribution favors campaigns that influence the lower end of the funnel. In contrast, first-click attribution favors campaigns that influence earlier in the funnel. Both are simple to use, widely supported by analytics tools, and are still the most common attribution models used, as depicted in the below chart from the Econsultancy and Google Analytics study.

The problem with click-based attribution

However, both models do not accurately capture the real influence a campaign has on a purchase. February 2012 data from Adobe shows that for search, there is a 38 percent increase in assigned revenue when moving from a last-click model to a first-click model. Similar results are shown for social, hinting that these channels are more influential in generating awareness than in triggering a buy decision. This example teaches us three important lessons:

  • The choice of attribution model can change the perceived value of a campaign, and hence affect future budgets, affiliate payments, and the marketing mix.
  • Attribution models place value on influence points in the funnel. Any model that puts all value on one point, as last-click and first-click do, will under-value other influences. Both last-click and first-click completely under-value marketing efforts that influence the middle of the funnel. In any case, research implies that models that assume a single touch-point influence are not great at estimating value.
  • By comparing several models, we gain valuable insights into the type of influence each channel and campaign has on revenue.

The good news is that marketers today are more aware of the shortcomings of last-click and first-click attribution.

Modern attribution modeling tools allow marketers to explore and evaluate alternative value distribution rules such as linear, time decay, or fully customized approaches that take into account channel types, keywords, and interaction (check out Google's Attribution Playbook for more information on these models).