Multi-Touch Attribution: Should I be Worried?

Last week at Online Marketing Summit (OMS) I had the pleasure of sitting in a panel of web analytics professionals, along with Eric Peterson, Matt Belkin from Omniture, Amanda Kahlow, Bill Bruno and Enrique Gonzalez from AARP.

First, I need to congratulate the folks from OMS for putting together a great show. There was a record attendance of over 800 professionals covering all areas of online marketing, along with a great lineup of presenters.

During the panel discussions, one of the questions asked was how should businesses deal with multi-touch attributions.

Here’s a sample scenario to help explain the pain point involved:

A visitor is interested in running shoes and conducts a Google search for the term “running shoes”. The visitor is presented a number of search ads from competing vendors such as Nike, Adidas, and others, and decides to check out Nike and Adidas sites. The visitor gets intrigued by the Nike ID line of products and decides to conduct some further research, and even registers for the Nike newsletter. While doing research on third-party sites, the visitor sees a banner ad for the Nike ID site and clicks the banner. Finally a day later the visitor gets an attractive email offer from Nike and ends up buying the shoes.

In this scenario, the visitor has been exposed to three separate campaigns. The “running shoes” search campaign generated the awareness. The banner campaign possibly helped increase awareness and instill further trust in the product and finally, the newsletter sealed the deal. By default, web analytics providers give credit to the last campaign touched by the user. In our example, the newsletter campaign will get the credit, whereas if it wasn’t for the search campaign, the visitor would not have even been aware of the Nike ID line. In fact, two variables that make multi-touch attribution a real challenge are:

  • Number of simultaneous campaigns. If you’re a company running large numbers of campaigns in parallel, you should account for multi-touch attribution
  • Complex or expensive product: the more complex the product, the longer the consideration and therefore the more likely you are to have multiple touch points.

So how does one tackle this challenge? First, for the large companies running many campaigns, there are a number of commercial solutions such as ClearSaleing that help solve this challenge (and a lot more). But what about smaller companies with small budgets using free solutions such as Google Analytics or Yahoo! Web Analytics?

First, we recommend that you investigate if you even have a multi-touch attribution problem. How? Let’s take another look at our example scenario. Two metrics within your analytics solution can give insight into this. They include time to purchase and number of visits prior to purchase (or conversion).

For example, if you use Google Analytics and have e-commerce tracking, you can use the “Visits to Purchase” report to see how many times do visitors come to your site prior to purchasing. If you are a lead generation type web site and have your conversions set up as goals, you can use the default “Visits with Conversions” segment and look at the loyalty report for the segment. In both cases, if most of your conversions come from first-time visitors, then multi-touch attribution is not going to be a problem for you and the rest won’t apply.

However, if you happen to see a big difference between converting visitors and others, then you can build a quick attribution report by following these steps:

  • Create a Javascript that captures your marketing campaign parameters into a persistent cookie
  • The JavaScript should also be configured to append campaign values together, as visitors go from one campaign to the next
  • Push the cookie value into a custom variable  – such as a visitor-centric custom variable in Google Analytics, a session-based custom field in Yahoo! Web Analytics or an eVar in Sitecatalyst.

You now have a simple yet powerful solution for seeing which campaigns your visitors are responding to, but also in what order.

Happy analyzing.

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