Marketing Attribution is a hot mess

It’s okay to be obsessed with marketing attribution. And, it’s common to need to remind clients about how marketing attribution works. Attribution is a marketing term that can be confusing and it’s a topic that comes up often when reporting results.

Whether it’s a phone call, form fill, or eCommerce sale, business owners and marketers always want to attribute that final conversion to a particular marketing channel. When running digital ads, email blasts, organic social media, and other channels simultaneously, it’s a dream to know exactly what’s working so you can shove more money into that channel. We all want to know the answer!

What should I do more of and where should I spend marketing dollars to have the most success?

Now, it’d be great to get the answer through perfect attribution. But the reality is that tracking and reporting are nowhere near perfect. No one can attribute marketing with a 100% degree of certainty to a certain channel. It’s just not possible.

Marketing attribution is a hot mess!

At a high level, here are some notable reasons why.

  • How consumers buy:  The majority of people don’t see one type of marketing and instantly want to buy. It’s not how our brains work and we just don’t impulse buy (especially on larger purchases). On average, someone has to be touched about eight times before pulling the trigger on a purchase. Those touches are through a variety of channels. To successfully sell products and services, it takes omnichannel marketing, and multi-channel marketing both online and offline working together.
  • Settings in different platforms and how they give credit:  Whatever platform you’re in has its own set of rules. For example, Facebook Ads will show 100% credit to facebook ads. While there are different setting options, it doesn’t always give you a sure picture of the data. The 28-day view and 28-day click attribute (when viewed or clicked) only within that amount of time. However, that is the furthest out setting available. Often times people need more than a month to make a buying decision—especially for something big. So, you could be getting conversions from Facebook ads but not be getting credit because it took over that 28-day setting to occur. While it’s valid for Facebook to get credit, it doesn’t take into consideration the other marketing channels. It’s important to understand that it’s not just one type of marketing that is affecting the sale. Another example that’s problematic is how Google Ads and Google Analytics don’t speak the same language. Sometimes you see conversions in one but not the other. With the push lately to use lots of automation the settings make a big difference. Google Ads allows you to change how attribution is accredited but Google Analytics does not. The data in the platforms reporting attribution will never match.
  • Cookie-based attribution: We know that when a website is visited, code is dropped into the website that tracks data associated with user buying and other habits. Note that 20% to 40% of people clear their cookies every month whether they know they’re doing it or not. This also clears the cookies that tracking platforms use to follow buying habits including conversions, phone calls, and form fills. We’re constantly clearing those cookies which means we have a lot of inaccurate data.
  • Offline attribution: Marketing attribution in the digital world is difficult but marketing attribution in the real world is even harder. There are some ways to do it like using branded URLs. But the likelihood that that full URL is used is low because users are more likely to visit a homepage so unfortunately the tracking is lost.The last beer
  • Google Analytics uses last-click attribution: Google Analytics can be used to tell a story. But you can’t change a default setting that gives credit to the very last thing that you do. For example, if a potential customer gets an email and clicks a Google ad but then 3 days later clicks on a Facebook ad and then makes the purchase, the email and google ads will get zero credit and the social ad will get 100% of the credit even though there was more involved in the sale. The original touch could have been weeks ago, months ago, or even a year or more ago but it still played some role in the buying decision.
  • Organic social media gets shortchanged: It’s important for a business to be active on social media. It’s great marketing but is hard to track and show an ROI. When marketing on social ads, you’re not marketing to people ready to buy but rather targeting more on interests and behaviors.
  • Inaccurate use of UTMs:  One resolution is UTMs. Those really long, ugly tracking URLs force google to put data into specific categories within Google Analytics. The problem is that people get confused about when and how to use them and/or the data is misinterpreted.

An effective and free overall method is to use Google Analytics as a tool. When reviewing data, focus heavily on what collectively has been done for the month in marketing efforts. Is there a trend that is increasing or decreasing for overall conversions? Only focus on one particular channel when optimizing within particular platforms. Consider all of the marketing channels to get a bigger picture of whether marketing efforts are paying off.

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