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Fault In Your Attribution - Are You Crediting The Right Channels?

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Fault In Your Attribution - Are You Crediting The Right Channels?

In the final tally of the Pelicans vs Nets, Rajon Rondo had scored 2 points - lowest in his entire basketball team. Yet, he made it to the record books which were untouched for the last 21 years. He did something that not only won the game for the Pelicans but had the bookkeepers rewrite records. It took Rondo only 30 minutes to break the dry spell of 21 years and secure a spot in the exclusive 25 assists club; the shortest amount of time any of the 7 players who have assisted 25 shots in a single game, creating 58 points, the most by any player in the game over the past 20 seasons.

Performance in NBA is measured not just on the basis of the points you score but on the basis of points you assists, total rebounds, and total blocks. A player who had made 58 baskets possible, scored only 2 times. But we can all agree that if it was not for his passes at the right moment, those scores would not have been possible. This is exactly how performance in a game is measured and attributed. Not just on the basis of the actual points scored - but on the basis of Total Rebounds, Blocks, Assists and Points scored.

Something very similar happens when you deep dive into a user’s buyer journey. User goes through multiple touch points - multiple devices before the final transaction is made. Clearly going by the last click attribution would be just plain unfair.

Attribution is the holy grail in advertising. And for businesses which heavily rely on advertising, attribution is becoming even the more important. Sources estimate that e-commerce will contribute about 10% of total retail sales in the US which will be driven by advertising, the ad spend being close to $2500.

The e-commerce business is bloated with metrics. And most marketers do not look beyond the last click conversions. This often presents a picture that paints one channel as the ultimate hero. With this article, I want to take a shot at helping marketers who are scaling their business crack the problem of attribution wide open. It will help you identify marketing channels that are contributing “significantly” in your user’s buying journey.   

The Yardstick for evaluating online stores changes with every milestone that they hit. As online stores evolve, so must their metrics. I am not saying that tracking these metrics would be wrong - just that they are vanity and more than often these are false positives.

You know what our problem is? We are biased without even knowing it. We usually consider the last channel that has interacted with the user to be the star, the lifesaver of marketing efforts, the ultimate channel you need to shove more money at. 

It makes sense to start off by attributing to the last channel the user interacted if you are just starting off and getting 100 orders a day. But if you are getting around 1000 orders in a day, you need to see which channels helped in bringing the users to the point of conversion as well. Again, this depends on the business you have, if you sell high-value products or not. Once your business starts growing, it is always advisable to analyze multiple touch points that encourage users along the way to attribute credit to the right channels.

Assisted channels to understand buyer journey

“I don’t think any one channel will capture it all for a brand. It just doesn’t happen anymore.” - Heather Oldani, McDonald’s, Head of Communication

Assisted channels are those channels that engage with the users (even multiple times) before users actually make a purchase. For example, I visit a footwear store in the morning and browsed some shoes. In the afternoon I am shown ads on Facebook showing some new collections, and in some time, I receive a Push Notification announcing hot deals in the shoe collection on shoes. In the night when I receive an Email about the offers on shoes, I couldn’t resist any longer.

While for the marketer, email seems to have brought a conversion, for me, it was the push notifications, the ad on social that lured me to make a purchase. If I was not prompted multiple times on different channels, I wouldn’t have converted the same day.

Here is how you can find assisted conversions in Google Analytics -

assisted conversion in google analytics

Here is an example of how web push notification has the best-assisted click/ last click conversion ratio. You can know more about the conversion ratios and its role in understanding assists and direct conversion in this article.

Attribution with complicated buying cycles

Attribution not only becomes tricky, but necessary when you deal with multiple marketing channels. It is crediting channel/channels for conversion. It helps you facilitate revenue tracking and lets you keep track of the channels that provide the highest ROI.

The duration of you set while analyzing conversion, depends on the products you are selling; if they are high-end products or not. The purchase cycle of a clothing store and a diamond jewelry store will be entirely different.

Google Analytics is the holy grail when it comes to analytics. And by default Google Analytics takes the last click except for direct click. But the question is, is that the right number you need to be tracking?

Also, there is no ‘right attribution model’. Just keep tracking the right metrics according to the stage your business is in.

Here are a few models you can to look at-

Attribution Models

Let's understand this with a story.

Imagine it’s your wife’s friend’s wedding in a month. Your wife is super excited and is on a shopping spree. She adds a blue dress to the cart but she is not sure if she should buy it. You see the enthusiasm on her face and tell it would look great on her and she shouldn't think twice. In the afternoon her sister tells her that the material of the dress would be good for the summers and she should definitely go with it. In the office, her colleague tells her that she would slay in that dress and that she would be the star of the night (after the bride and groom of course). When she returns, her mom tells her that blue always looked good on her and she would look pretty in that dress. And she finally clicks on the Buy button.

Now, let’s get on to the attribution models and substitute channels to the people from the story above.  

Last Click attribution - Crediting the last touchpoint

Last click attribution gives all the credit to the last channel a user has converted from. Now going back to the story, imagine if all the credit for convincing your wife to buy the dress goes to the mom. What about all the other people who were involved?

last click attribution

Who should use this model: As I earlier mentioned, if you are just starting off, the last click is a good model to look at. Businesses that see shorter sales cycle can use this model and know which channel was the decision making channel. For products that you know will be purchased impulsively, the last touch gives a better picture.

But as the number of marketing channels you use to engage with the users increase, you need to start looking at something that just doesn't give all the credit to the last channel from which the user converted.

First click Attribution - Crediting the first interaction

This model is just opposite of the last click model. Here the channel that interacted with the user first is given all the credit.

Imagine she is back from the wedding, and she says it was because of you that she bought the dress. You definitely don't want to see the look on your mother-in-law's face! *brace yourself*

The concept behind this model is that a user would not have known about your sale or a new collection announcement if it was not for the first channel. But it doesn’t take into account the contribution of the other channels.

first click attribution

Who should use this model: This model is best suited for businesses that are gunning for growth or if their focus is on awareness and new users acquisition. Best used when your marketing is limited to one or two channels. Use this model if you have a short sales cycle.

Linear Attribution - Giving each channel equal credit

When they say treat everyone equally, I am pretty sure it doesn't include attributing the marketing channels the same way. This model distributes the credit to all channels that were involved from the users first touch point to the last. But the whole point of an attribution model is to arrive at channels that perform the best.

linear attribution

Here all the people who were involved in making your wife purchase that dress are given equal credit. Everyone deserves credit, but we all know we can never say no to mom. You get what I am saying.

Who should use this model: Businesses that have started off can use this to see the channels that are constantly encouraging the users to convert.

Position based attribution

This model attributes 40% to both the first click and the last click. This model believes that the channel responsible for attracting the user in first place and the channel that actually makes users convert should be given higher credit. Shows effectiveness in both ends of the funnel.

position based attribution

According to the story, you and your mother-in-law get most of the credit. Is it unfair for the others?

Who should use this model: This model is usually used by businesses who sell high-end products.

Time - decay

The Time Decay model like the linear model credits all channels, but rather than giving them equal credit, it credits the channel closest to conversion the highest and keeps lowering the credit when the channel moves further away from conversion.

When it comes to comparing all the above-mentioned models, the Time Decay model stands by far the most sensible especially if your business is now in a  stable state. You need to credit all the channels are they have played a role bringing the user closer to conversions.

Time decay attribution

Now we are talking!  In the story, while everyone's intention was to make her buy the dress, everyone played a different role, her interest only grew after she interacted with each person.

Who should use this model: This model would be appropriate to figure out which channel closes a sale faster for businesses that deal with high-end products as they see longer sales cycles. This model can also help find the channels that drive repeat sales.

But then, what is it considered as a conversion?

Conversions have a gamut of metrics that are involved. The way conversion is credited, is different for different tools. For some tools, a conversion could be opens or clicks, or even views for that matter. Hence, it is necessary to know what is considered as a conversion for the marketing tools you are using. Being unaware will create utter confusion when you calculate your revenue.

Is your total attributed revenue more than your actual revenue?

There are some tools that declare that they have made conversions, and we end up thinking they are talking about direct sales. Google analytics shows a number and the marketing tool shows something different altogether! Yes, it's confusing, I don't blame you. By the end of it, all you know is that the revenue numbers don't match up.

Here is what some tools consider as conversions -


Tools/ Channels Attribution Model  
Facebook First click attribution By default considers a conversion if user purchases after 1-day view and 24 days click on an ad
Cretio First click attribution By default conversion is credited if a user has clicked on an Ad and a sale happens within 30 days
Adroll First click attribution By default, a sale needs to take place within 7 days of a user interacting with an ad to attribute conversion
Adwords Multiple attribution models - First-click attribution Only if a user clicks on the ad and then makes a purchase, is a conversion credited
Recart First click attribution Considers it to be a conversion if user purchases within 72 hours of open/click on email or push notification


Tip: Stick on to one analytics tool to have all data in one place and follow one attribution model.  

Hygiene checks

With users interacting with multiple channels, there are so many ways that user can land on your website. How do you differentiate each channel?

  • Make sure that you are adding UTMs to all your efforts.
  • Decide on the conversion metric you are going to track and make sure it’s captured

If the UTMs are incorrect, you will end up having a lot of direct conversions and you won’t be able to track the performance of the channels effectively.

Marketing is full of assumptions, especially when it comes to crediting conversions. A channel that seems like the king of conversions, in reality, might not even be close. You need to give due importance to assisted channels that help bring users closer to conversions. As mentioned above, there is no right model of attribution. But make sure you stick to one attribution model that suits your business the best, according to the stage your store is in. Let us know which model you prefer and why, in the comments below.

This article was originally published on Pinnacle Cart.


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Pravya Pravin
Pravya Pravin
Pravya Pravin is a Product Marketer at iZooto. An artist who paints not only with words, but also on canvas. She loves exploring places less traveled and wishes to go on a bike trip to the highest motorable road.

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