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Online Advertising and Attribution Reporting

Kristjan Mar Hauksson

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On May 14, 2012
Last modified:February 10, 2017


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Before the advent of sophisticated digital and online technologies, tracking of marketing campaigns was easier. Television, newspapers, magazines and radio were primary media channels and when consumers came directly to a store or ordered from a catalogue, it was simple to trace their purchase path. With a proliferation of technologies, customers now reach sellers through a myriad of sources – organic search, PPC, social media, email campaigns, media partner sites, QR codes, TV ads, group buying sites and display ads. In this era, therefore, attribution reporting is used by marketers to comprehend the miscellaneous touch points that customers have with their brand.

Instead of focusing on the last click – the click that brings conversions, such as a customer signing up for newsletters or finalizing a shopping cart purchase – attribution reporting assigns partial values to various and overlapping marketing touch points that customers interact with during the sales process as they move from awareness through to conversion. While statistics show that paid search advertising and search engine optimization still have a major share of online marketing budgets, customers also get influenced by a combination of social mentions, display ads, offline marketing, promo codes and traditional marketing channels, such as TV and Radio.

Last click attribution unfairly credits the last referral for conversion while completely ignoring other channels that may be a part of the sales chain. Perhaps a TV ad that initially introduced a product to some customers instigated them to check for more information online and eventually purchase the product. The advertisement on TV then also deserves some credit. Comprehensive attribution reporting gives you a better view idea of the entire purchase process and reveals how your customers are influenced by a combination of channels and marketing messages. Organizations with a sound attribution reporting have seen 18% to 26% increase in return on investment (ROI) on their marketing spend. Ironically though, only 24 per cent of companies and digital marketers have adopted attribution reporting.

The low adoption rate for this system is primarily due to a complex marketplace and a shortage of skilled personnel for advanced tracking and analytics.

The Process of Attribution Reporting

The chain of process to a final sale or conversion is long and complex – the customer experiences multiple ad impressions, direct marketing influences, offers and specific level of brand recall before he or she is ready to pull out the wallet and commit to a sales or conversion. Employing sophisticated tracking technologies and a system of attribution modeling (assigning weighted values to each media touch point) attribution reporting checks the clicks and traces your customer’s entire movement through the sales process. This may involve using a unique tracking value in print ads that can be further used to locate the referral source for a particular customer as they enter into the sales chain. For the next step, you can trace the different keywords the customer uses to find your company through Google. The banner ads seen across different sites can then be traced along with promo code distributed across social media. You can finally measure the influence of the email offer that involves the click leading to conversion.

With attribution reporting, the aim is to factor in every marketing tactic that you employ in offline and online media, and to precisely check your highest yielding channels, as also as the interaction and partial values of each channel. Once you know your highest performing channels, you can tweak the ineffective ones and re-allocate your media spend to the channels that help in driving conversion.


The Actual Working of Attribution Reporting

Scope and strategies for marketing in the online world have advanced beyond search engine optimization. For those who feel that social media and display ads prove to be low converting channels, attribution reporting has revealed a different anecdote.


A study by Atlas Institute revealed that 44 percent of sponsored search clickers get exposed to display ads prior to the click. The study also revealed that 71 percent of the sponsored clicks are navigational in nature. As conventional last click web analytics are focused on clicks and conversions, marketers require more robust reporting to see the complete customer journey from awareness to action (conversion).

The attribution process should start by coming up with key questions that you need answers for through an attribution model. These could be:

• How many times does your advertising interact with users prior to their response?

• Which channels or sources influence their response?

• Can you determine if there is a quantitative value of a tactic that aids in conversion but is not last click?

Once your attribution model is established, you need some time to let all of your activities run and be evaluated before beginning to analyze your comparative data.

The Challenges

Using a conversion attribution model for optimization of your marketing strategies and investment is just one aspect of looking holistically at the touch points that lead to a conversion. But there are very few who have the creative budget, the time and the resources to plan media and creativity together along every point in the process, across all channels.

Another major challenge is that there is no magic formula, or best practice, to come up with an ideal combination of media events. Customers do not travel along the same purchase path—and there are complex factors that vary from industry to industry and company to company. With such complexities, creating an attribution model is more or less an educated guess.

The Conclusion

Utilizing an appropriate technology and reporting the right metric from the right channel to a person with specific knowledge of that domain, at the right time is the most effective way to show value and get the increase in spend that you deserve. You may feel that in the end the only metrics that really matter are sales (or equivalent) and the cost of achieving those. But to check which channels for marketing give maximum returns on investment, it is important to measure and track how SEO and its converged media partners can become more accountable in that sales process.

Mini Rich Snippets test - Hooking it on "Online Advertising and Attribution Reporting" to understand impact
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European Search Personality of the year 2014, Kristján Már Hauksson, is the Co-Founder and COO of SMFB Engine, based in Oslo, Norway. This newfound digital activation/marketing agency works closely with the award winning creative agency, SMFB, in making sure that each idea has the digital presence to make it fly. Kristján is a publish author on the topic Internet Marketing and Search Engine Marketing.