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GUEST COMMENT Six reasons why you should get your attribution right

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by Jon Baron

The customer journey is a twisty one, not a simple linear process and therefore is hard to measure. However the right attribution model can navigate this process and show the role that each channel plays on the final conversion and on other channels to build to conversion.

A recent study by TagMan in association with the Internet Advertising Bureau looked at the key questions about the non-linear nature of the customer journey for five leading UK retailers. The study took place in October 2011 and measured all online marketing activity including PPC, SEO, display, affiliate, social, email and direct to site. It looked at full path to conversion and non-converting data feed reports and resulted in six key findings.

1. Journey times vary considerably

With some users taking as little as one day to convert and others up to 17, it’s important to understand how each channel is impacting individual journeys in order to reward their real contribution.

Two conversion paths for the same retailer show two very different journeys:

Complete path duration: One day

Complete path duration: 17 days

The first journey takes only a single day. Display is a strong influence at the start of the journey, leading to two generic search queries and a final affiliate click which may have been the result of a search for a discount voucher.

The second example shows a conversion journey which took over two and a half weeks. In this example, the customer made a few different searches and was later exposed to display advertising which then led to a further search before finally going directly to the advertiser’s site.

Understanding how journey times vary for your own brand will allow you to adjust your campaign timings to ensure all potential customers are exposed to your brand right along the conversion process. Seasonal fluctuations should also be measured for any variances in journey times.

2. The majority of journeys are two steps or more

Over half of retail journeys take more than one step. In 55% of cases within the study, the consumer needed to be exposed to multiple online advertising touch points before they converted.

In addition to the time it takes for a conversion, this shows that the number of exposures required for a conversion can also vary. It highlights the importance of understanding your customer’s full path to conversion. Similarly, checking whether factors such as price or seasonality affect the number of exposures will allow you to further optimise your campaigns. For example do higher price points require more exposures or do these reduce during sale time.

3. Direct to site visits and SEO are the most popular one step journeys

The graph below highlights the importance of brand building in the media mix in order to maximise your natural channels which can very often be purely navigational. Whilst brands one, two, four and five have strong brands and are maximising these natural channels without having to invest too heavily for these conversions, brand three, although also a strong brand, is unnecessarily paying for ‘branded’ searches which should ideally come from natural search or even direct to site.

With ‘googling’ now an established verb, navigational habits have changed. People search for branded terms in Google to find what they’re looking for on the brand’s site rather than using the brand’s onsite search tool. Therefore the likelihood of purely navigational one-step journeys from search is very high. brands two and four demonstrate this. However, unlike brand three, they are not paying for it.

4. Display can be important for starting journeys

In the example below, there was a heavy display campaign running which influenced the start of most journeys.

Whilst traditionally undervalued by last click attribution models, display can play a key role as the catalyst at the start of the customer journey by triggering brand awareness. As a push channel, it’s important that the creative is consistent with all other activity to ensure a positive brand experience.

5. Display and search are great together

Users with both search and display in their path are far more likely to convert than if only exposed to one of these channels. In some cases likelihood of conversion was as high as four times:

Using search in isolation is not the best way to maximise return on investment for search budgets. Identifying which channels work best with search will drive better use of your search budgets. Display advertising is effective at raising brand awareness at the start of a journey and can help building brands as it triggers search components that would not have taken place without the display influence.

6. A quarter of customers will repurchase, so try to ensure a good customer experience

The study also showed that a quarter of those who made a purchase would go on to make a further purchase, indicating a high level of loyalty amongst these brands and a huge opportunity for cross-sell advertising. This emphasises the importance of getting the shopping transaction process right to encourage further purchases. Again this comes down to ensuring all messaging in your advertising matches with the on-site experience.

Identifying the different paths to conversion, where a brand can influence the purchase decision along the customer conversion journey and how different channels impact on each other is crucial in the retail sector where there is ever increasing competition and the cost of marketing continues to rise accordingly. Getting your online marketing attribution right can mean significant uplifts in sales as well as ensuring greater efficiencies in your marketing spends.

Jon Baron is CRO/co-founder of TagMan

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