The Prettiest Person In The Room: The Impact Of Data Sources On Attribution

Imagine a room filled with 20 men or 20 women. Setting aside for a moment that attraction is subjective, if we were asked to identify the most attractive person in the room, most of us could easily narrow it down to the one to two we thought were most attractive.

Now, imagine a room with just three men or just three women. Were we given the same task we could still carry it out, but not only would our selection be far more limited than when we could select from 20 people, but we might not find any of the men or women to be truly attractive.

We might have to “settle” on the most attractive person. In reality, with a greater selection of men or women comes a greater likelihood that we’ll find someone truly attractive.

A Marketing Beauty Contest

With marketing attribution management, the same basic concept holds true. If the only marketing performance data sources used to fuel your attribution engine are from one search engine and only online display publisher buys, when it comes to attributing credit for your conversions there will be a limited number of marketing touchpoints available for use in the attribution equation.

On the other hand, you can imagine that the attribution process has a lot more to consider when identifying how to distribute credit for your conversions when you need to include performance data from a variety of sources such as the following:

  • several  different paid search programs
  • organic search from multiple engines
  • publisher buys
  • rich media
  • video
  • ad exchanges
  • any other display ad sources not captured by your ad server
  • Omniture data
  • data from your email tool
  • social media sources
  • your direct mail results
  • summary data obtained from your TV, radio and print campaigns

It also has a much better chance of identifying the channels, campaigns, and campaign attributes (size, placement, publisher, keyword, timing, creative etc.) that truly impact the eventual conversion.

In effect, it has a better chance of finding a “person” that’s truly attractive. And of course any number of data sources that fall between these two extremes still has a better chance of producing a more accurate picture of where credit for your marketing success should be given.

So Does Search Suffer By Comparison?

First “Yes,” and then “No.”

In general, we’ve found that as more data sources are used in the sophisticated algorithms that calculate the true impact of each marketing touchpoint on conversions, the less credit that search gets for those conversions.

Just think about it: if you had 20 data sources being used in the attribution equation – even if ten of them were responsible for only a fraction of one conversion each, that would still eat away at the amount of credit that search would get for your overall universe of conversions.

Unless you include marketing performance data from those sources, you’ll never know what, if any, impact they had on your overall marketing success, and how much direct conversion credit they steal from search.

That said, we’ve seen that the more data sources you use in the attribution equation, the more correlations and synergies that marketers and their agencies are able to identify between search tactics and tactics used in other channels.

  • Which display ad publishers, creatives, sizes and placements drive the most profitable conversions taking place on search?
  • Which display ads or sequences of ads produce searches for which keywords or sequences of keywords?
  • What size spikes in conversions are produced by which TV or radio ads in which markets at which timeslots?
  • Which print ad or direct mail creatives and timing impact conversions via search?

The answers to these questions typically do not result in a fundamental decrease in search investment, but simply in a reallocation of overall investment to the combination channels, campaigns, and campaign attributes that help produce the most conversions across all channels – but particularly via search.

The Takeaway

When it comes to producing the most accurate attribution possible, the more channels the better. Start with search and whatever channel you intuitively feel has the greatest impact on conversions at your organization, then add additional channels as bandwidth and your growing mastery of the attribution process allows. As you do, the prettier things will get.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Credit Is Due


About The Author: is the Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Visual IQ®, maker of IQ Intelligence Suite™ of cross channel marketing intelligence software products recognize opportunities for optimization hidden in marketing performance data.

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