Google’s New Answer to the Attribution Dilemma

Their latest power tool: Google Attribution

“How do you know which of the many interactions you’ve had with a person across search, display, video, your site or your app really mattered?” That question was posed by Bill Kee, Attribution product manager, during Google’s Marketing Next event a couple of weeks ago. It’s a question that breeds still more questions. What happens if your customer sees an ad on one device but purchases on another? Or starts their buying process with a generic keyword but finishes with a brand keyword? The convolutions of the modern shopping process can entail numerous touchpoints across several devices, and the implications be quite difficult to evaluate. Indeed, for lack of a better alternative, a lot of marketers tend to rely on measuring their performance using last-click attribution—giving all the credit of a conversion to the customer’s very last action. Google Attribution assesses the full customer journey.

This time last year we wrote about big changes to the AdWords attribution model. What makes this news different? Google Attribution (formerly a paid feature in Analytics 360) is intended to measure the impact of every marketing touchpoint across all channels and devices by integrating AdWords, Analytics, and DoubleClick Search and streamlining their attribution features. This is a far more holistic approach than anything that existed previously. AdWords attribution models are easy to use, but they are merely cross-device and not cross-channel. Meanwhile, Google Analytics offers “Multichannel funnels” to track a user’s activity across channels and devices, but only for the four most recent interactions. The Attribution platform offers the unified overview needed to gain a complete, data-driven understanding of your marketing reach.

Attribution Diagram -

What’s in it for you

Google Attribution proposes to remove blindspots from your customer journey analysis. Here’s a rundown of their most alluring features. Heads up: they’re not all free.

Attribution’s “Marketing Mix Modelling” feature presents the impact of each channel on the baseline performance in a simple waterfall chart with useful viewing options. This creates a clear visual and numeric representation of the incremental value generated by each channel—a family portrait of your marketing efforts.

Attribution Marketing Modelling Mix

The Attribution platform includes more channels—including TV. The premise here is to take airing data and hold it against the “digital response”. In other words, they analyze TV viewer ratings against search activity before, during, and after a given ad spot, while filtering for noise and weighing the impact on all your channels.

Launching this new tool, Google promises lots of integration. For a price. It wasn’t pure altruism that prompted Google to release Attribution from the Analytics 360 umbrella. The DoubleClick Campaign Manager Integration, the Offline Conversion Connector, and the Real-Time Bidding Programmatic Connector are extremely tempting integrations, but they will all funnel you to paid services.

Is it for me and what should I know?

Depending on the size and scope of your business, we see this tool as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. It will best serve particularly-advanced marketers, business segments with complex or poorly-modelled customer journeys, and supersize assortments or enterprise-level efforts. An interesting aspect of Google’s announcement is that the conversion threshold for Attribution fell from 800 conversions per month (in the 360 release) to 600 conversions per month. This could be due to improvements in their algorithm, but is also presumably an effort to broaden the platform’s reach. However, our data science team kindly reminds users that the more data you generate, the more you will benefit.

As mentioned above, some advanced integration options are pay-to-play, but all Attribution customers can import data back into AdWords in the form of pushed models. As evidence-rich data points, these imports can be used as a foundation for further data-driven optimization. For customers using Whoop! or AdEngine, our deep specialization in AdWords means that our tools only become more powerful and precise when your AdWords data is enhanced.

While Google’s aim is to unify your data, unfortunately there’s no such thing as a 100% seamless transition. What should you look out for? For customers using the Attribution platform, their channel attribution path will get longer thanks to credit being assigned to TV and Facebook, among other possibilities. This imbalance changes the weights of the attribution points when reimported to AdWords. Moreover, the time periods before and after the switch will no longer have a valid one-to-one correspondence for historical comparisons. Users of Whoop! and AdEngine can reach out to our support team for help managing this transition more smoothly.

Final Word

In and of itself, conversion attribution is a process centered on description, not optimization. Only data-driven attribution focuses on optimization by asking what would have happened if a given touchpoint was missing—and then comparing the results. This is exactly the benefit that Google Attribution aims to offer, with the aid of machine learning. We are optimistic about the outcome and we expect a benefit for heavy AdWords users, and for our customers in particular. That said, we will keep a critical eye on the platform and its performance as the data accrues. Stay tuned.