Recognizing the Benefits of Attribution for Publishers and Advertisers

Awarding Credit Where Credit's Due

Over the past year, the topic of attribution has emerged as a hot one among brands and advertisers looking for better ways to measure the impact of their online marketing investments. This is because attribution is finally giving advertisers what they’ve wanted for years – a way to trade in subjective “last-click” or “last event” measurement approaches for an objective, data-driven one that accurately determines which ad channels, types of creative, placements and varying combinations of all of the above deliver the best results.

Not all publishers are happy with the growing acceptance of attribution measurement by advertisers. Some web publishers and ad networks that traditionally exploited “last event” measurement in order to inflate the value they deliver to advertisers are now under the microscope. Attribution has uncovered these schemes and given brands an accurate view into audience quality and conversion performance for different publishers.

The good news is most publishers and ad networks are in agreement that they stand to benefit greatly from the continued adoption of attribution measurement by advertisers agencies. This is especially true among those with high-quality audiences and traffic. Here’s why.


Distorted Accreditation

In the past, publishers with high-quality traffic were often undervalued by the “last event” measurement approach. For example, a publisher serving display advertisements to high-quality targets would not receive proper credit for its contribution to driving search traffic. This was because credit was given entirely to the search ad (i.e., the last ad clicked) and not to the display ads that influenced the search/click to occur in the first place.

Even within an advertiser’s display campaign, “last event” measurement can generate inaccurate results. For example, high-quality publishers and ad networks may find that the much higher-volume, cheaper media within an advertiser’s campaign overruns their valuable inventory. When the last event media is used to measure results, it hurts good-quality media by claiming conversion credit simply by being the last ad served to the user before that user converts. As a result, 100% of the conversion credit given to this last ad served severely undervalues the impact of all the higher-quality ads that built the top of the funnel awareness and intent to purchase.

But all is not lost. The good news is there are now options available for publishers and ad networks to help advertisers better understand the value of their inventory.


Test and Control

First, it is possible for publishers to calculate the incremental value of their inventory in driving conversions for advertisers by setting up a test and control cell with a persistent pixel to track total conversions as media buys are fulfilled. The unique visitors placed in the test cell get served the advertiser’s creative, while the unique visitors placed in the control cell are served other media or public service ads.”


The key is to ensure that characteristics of the unique visitors placed (and resultant ad units served) to the control cell are similar to characteristics of the test cell. Then it’s a simple matter of calculating the advertiser’s conversion rate on control and test cells. If the advertiser’s conversion rate is higher on the test cell than the control cell, then the publisher or ad network can rightly point to the overall value they’re providing to the advertiser. The higher the difference in conversion rate, the higher the value of the publisher or ad network’s inventory.

While this simple test and control operation can give advertisers insight into the performance of a single source, it cannot provide any insights into the complex interactions that occur within an entire campaign, across sites and channels. Only a robust attribution model can provide these types of optimization recommendations. That’s why it’s valuable to understand what attribution approach (if any) the advertiser is using.


Data Leads the Charge

In reviewing current or planned advertiser attribution approaches, it’s important to ensure that the advertiser is using an objective, data-driven attribution approach (as these solutions provide the most accurate results and insights) that provides specific, placement-level optimization recommendations. Data-driven approaches use algorithms to assign proper credit to campaign variables, while subjective approaches arbitrarily assign credit based on guesswork or simple attribution methods. By ensuring advertisers are using a data-driven approach, the publisher or ad network can be assured that their inventory will be more accurately valued and that they’ll get specific feedback to help better optimize and improve performance that the publisher or ad network can deliver to the advertiser.

In the end, no matter what publishers decide, they should embrace rather than resist attribution. Assigning appropriate credit helps savvy publishers and ad networks better optimize performance for their clients and it will help definitively measure the value they are providing – all of this will result in larger IOs and tighter, more strategic relationships with their advertisers.

OPS Markets

Hear more about attribution from Dustin Engel, Executive Vice President of the Western Region for iProspect, at OPS Markets, which will bring digital advertising leaders and ops professionals together to discuss and develop best practices for operational excellence in the evolving automated landscape. Register today for OPS Markets, which will be held April 18, 2012, in New York.