Get in touch with our team
Feature image for 14.06.2018


4 min read

Search Leeds 2018 – Is Attribution Coming of Age? – Angus Hamilton

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Any digital marketer who has had their ear to the ground over the last 12 months will know that attribution is a hot topic in paid search. Attribution in 2018 is what ‘the rise of mobile’ was five years ago – it’s happening now and digital marketers need to take notice.

During this talk at Search Leeds, Angus Hamilton, CTO at Search Laboratory asked if attribution is coming of age.

The sceptics among us may say that Google is having this drive on attribution in order to simply give marketers more ways to see the value of their PPC activity (particularly channels such as display and programmatic) and therefore spend more of their marketing budgets on PPC.

But, scepticism aside, how can we as marketers use the attribution tools at our disposal to make more informed decisions about our search marketing?

What is Attribution?

To cover the basics first, attribution is essentially how marketers give ‘credit’ to the different channels used in their journey to purchase.

Years ago, this would have been pretty simple, with organic, direct, paid search ads, maybe email campaigns, and little else. But now, with the addition of paid social, PLAs, programmatic, influencer marketings (to name just a few), attribution has become a minefield that the old-hat Last Click attribution model just can’t navigate.

Angus sums up attribution as ‘the science of assigning credit to the marketing touchpoints a customer was exposed to’.

Go to ‘Conversions’ > ‘Top Conversion Paths’ in Google Analytics to view your user’s touchpoints. The screenshot above is from one of Impression’s paid search clients.


Why now?

So attribution is having a moment. But why now? Angus referenced a survey that highlighted ‘cross-channel measurement and attribution is the number 1 tactic occupying digital marketers minds’

There are a few reasons for this; Google Analytics is now much more advanced, with attribution and model comparison becoming more sucessful and accessible, and finally there is now a full suite of google tools and models as opposed to just First Click and Last Click.

What is the value of attribution?

We know that channels interact and work together – no campaign is ever created or activated in a vacuum. For example, the results of a display prospecting campaign may be an uplift in Brand search, an uplift in CTR from generic search, or even a boost in conversion rates as a result of brand recognition and increased trust.

All the above outcomes could be present, while the Display campaign may appear to be running at a loss (if you were to rely on Last Click attribution alone). And this is why looking at alternative attribution models is so important.

What is Data-driven attribution?

Many search marketers are of the opinion that Data Driven attribution is the best solution to cross-channel attribution modeling. It’s also the solution that Google themselves are pushing users to utilise. However, Data Driven attribution and how the value of each channel is determined continues to be a ’black box’.

According to Google; ’Data Driven analyses each channel and determines the value of each channel used in the customer journey and attributes that credit appropriately.’

How that analysis is conducted is unknown at this, but when we consider Google’s ultimate aim is to make campaigns successful so that marketers spend more money on Google – it makes sense to trust them.

The model comparison tool can be used to compare attribution models and see the uplift in conversions, cost per conversions and ROAS. This means, even when testing alternative models, other attribution model data is always available for comparison.

What should you be doing about attribution right now?

First of all, sort out your Google Analytics. Make sure your channel groupings are set up correctly, traffic sources are tracked appropriately, and you have a watertight UTM template/naming conventions in place. Basically, make sure all traffic is being tracked appropriately and you have good data hygiene. If your data isn’t good, your attribution-based decisions aren’t going to be either.

Consider how to track you Offline Conversions (if this is appropriate to your business). Whether that be store visits, or integration with your CRM (which is surprisingly easy with tools such as Salesforce).

Lastly, consider if a Data Driven attribution tool may be appropriate for your business. This will depend largely on your resources (be that in-house or agency) and budget. Angus noted tools such as DoubleClick, Google Analytics 360 and Attribution 360, which can all make the puzzle of attribution infinitely simpler.

One final takeaway

This wasn’t included in Angus’ talk, but as a search marketer making thousands of decisions about PPC campaigns every week myself, I believe the scariest part of sitting up and taking notice of attribution is actually acting on your findings.

When data-driven (the small ‘D’ kind) decisions have been based on Last Click for so long, it can be scary to jump in and push budgets up on campaigns that historically haven’t been shown to generate a return. The Last Click data suggests that would be crazy! But the fact is, Data Driven attribution isn’t going away, and that is for good reason.