Report: More Complex Attribution Model Shows Organic Search Significantly Undervalued By Marketers

Marketing firm Slingshot SEO is picking up where Microsoft left off. Five years ago Microsoft/Atlas began trying to educate marketers and the marketplace about the fact that more online sources than the “last click” were responsible for conversions. This was partly an effort to undermine the centrality of Google, which gets lots of credit for driving the final click, and partly an effort to make conversion modeling more sophisticated and reflective of the multiple influences on consumer purchases.

This morning Slingshot SEO is releasing a fascinating report (registration required) that also argues marketers are placing too much emphasis not only on the “last click” but also the “first click.” It shows how the value and potential priority of various digital marketing channels change if one uses a “multi-touch attribution model.”

Year-Long Study Analyzed 23 Million Conversions

The year-long 2011 study “analyzed over 23 million multiple-interaction conversions across 30 domains, which include large retailers and service providers.” It assigned equal value for each visit or step in the conversion path.

Slingshot SEO explains this “flat multi-touch attribution model”:

For example, in the following series of interactions leading to a conversion, each of the five interactions is credited with an equal portion of the conversion value: Organic Search ($20) > Referral ($20) > Social Network ($20) > Email ($20) > Direct ($20) = $100 conversion. In this case, each channel receives the conversion value divided by the number of interactions in the chain.

Direct Visits Getting Too Much Credit

The company reported that for these 30 clients, “‘direct visits’ were getting more credit for conversions under a last-touch model, as they were often the last interaction before a conversion. As a result, other channels like ‘organic search,’ ‘paid advertising,’ and ‘referrals’ were typically undervalued.” Slingshot SEO said that consumers on average “took 2.79 interactions before converting” and that the final touch or step before the conversion “was typically a direct visit to the site or a branded keyword search.”

The chart above shows the channels that were overvalued and undervalued by Slingshot SEO clients. The negative (orange) cells reflect how much the channel was overvalued; the green or positive cells indicate the percent by which the channel was undervalued.

Organic Search Worth 77 to 81 Percent More than Thought

Organic search was the most consistently undervalued channel. Slingshot SEO’s attribution model argues that “‘organic search’ should have been worth as much as 77.25% more than previously thought, and ‘non-branded organic’ should have been worth as much as 81.59% more.”

It should be mentioned that organic SEO is part of what Slingshot SEO does for a living and so the conclusions and implied recommendations of the report do serve its interests. In addition, the equal weighting of each “touch” is hypothetical and doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual value of each channel in the conversion process. However this is the identical methodology that Microsoft/Atlas was advocating.

Having said all that, the multi-touch attribution model does start to expand the aperture and get marketers to think more holistically about consumer behavior, as well as the fact that multiple influences do play in every purchase decision. As we’ve known for a number of years, consumer search behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is typically stimulated by some event, ad or other influence — often from traditional media or interactions in the “real world.”

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | SEM Industry: General | SEM Industry: Stats | SEO: General | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News

Sponsored


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



SearchCap:

Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  

Share

Other ways to share:
 

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Pat

    The company reported that for these 30 clients, “‘direct visits’ were getting more credit for conversions under a last-touch model, as they were often the last interaction before a conversion. As a result, other channels like ‘organic search,’ ‘paid advertising,’ and ‘referrals’ were typically undervalued.” Slingshot SEO said that consumers on average “took 2.79 interactions before converting” and that the final touch or step before the conversion “was typically a direct visit to the site or a branded keyword search.”

    AMEN! There are critical insights available whenever those other buckets change – whether it’s a drop or rise in organic, changes in PPC ROAS goals, PPC stoppages, new referral partners… myopia abounds.

  • Pat

    compare name traffic PPC to those direct visits, same dealio. segmentation on front end is essential to observing the outcomes, then trying to “see” causality.

  • http://www.booyahadvertising.com drewgrab

    The key part to this study seems to be the simplified and rarely used “flat multi-touch attribution model”. This model assumes equal weight ought to be applied for each step in a conversion path. However, this does not take into consideration any time constraints or latency periods between steps in the conversion path. Also, this model will exaggerate the value of steps that are often repeated (such as organic non-brand search when users are shopping around).

    As an analyst for Booyah Online Advertising, I do believe these mid-funnel steps are clearly undervalued compared to a last-click or first-click attribution model, but the findings in this article seem to be espousing the value of over-weighting mid-funnel steps in conversion paths. I would be interested to see how these findings hold up using a more sophisticated constraint based attribution model compared to the simplified model used in the study.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    Any such study that doesn’t differentiate between brand search (paid and organic) and non-brand search (paid and organic) is not just oversimplified, it’s meaningless. There is very little distinction between the marketing value of direct load and the marketing value of brand/navigational search. In both cases the user knew where they wanted to go in advance. As we’ve argued many times, there is far more that goes into an accurate picture of marketing influence than proportional credit allocation delivers as latency, ordering and channel behaviors are important, but missing the brand/ non-brand divide is a fundamental flaw.

    Their marketing team deserves a hat tip for getting this out there, but as Greg noted, keep in mind the interests of those who produced it.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    er, uh, on more careful observation, I see they did separate brand and non-brand organic, if not paid…Mmmmm, this shoe is delicious!

  • http://www.acquisio.com Marc Poirier

    I agree with George – of course it’s great to see beyond the last click. But why is an equal part attribution model the right answer? I’m sure I’m missing something.

  • Pat

    okay, i’ll admit it, i read your article again today. delicious the 2nd time as well.

  • Pat

    “But why is an equal part attribution model the right answer?”
    There is no ‘right’ answer, all answers are a chosen compromise, necessitated by aggregating data. Seek out the one the best reflects your channel’s contributions, then (and only then), are you truly winning the pursuit of optimal outcomes.

    Do not try to bend the spoon — that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth: there is no spoon.

    And yes, I came back again today. It’s only March, but I crown thee article of the year (even though the title doesn’t do justice to the lid you’re lifting).

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest

 
 

Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States

Europe

Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech


Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!

 


 

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide