Beyond Last-Click Attribution – The Customer Journey to Conversion Model

Series: How Smarter Attribution Leads to Smarter eCommerce Marketing

In our last blog post about attribution modeling we discussed the last-click attribution model, including the strengths and weaknesses of using the last-click model to attribute return for marketing investments. Today we’ll delve deeper into the attribution topic, discussing a more sophisticated model: the customer journey to conversion attribution model.

Let’s get back to the example of our customer who took notice of your online shop through a search ad, signed up for your promotions newsletter, clicked on an offer you sent via email and browsed your online shop, and finally completed the purchase after clicking on a personalized display banner a couple of days later. With a last-click attribution model, credit is only given to the final marketing touch point before the transaction, which means that no credit is given to any “assisting” touch points on the path to conversion. For marketers who are paying for numerous channels and even numerous vendors per channel, this model doesn’t make sense, does it?

For a more realistic allocation of the cost per order, or CPO, you need to take into account all marketing channels that were involved in your customer’s journey to conversion. The customer journey model enables advertisers to assign credit to numerous channels for a particular purchase, rather than just one. Easy, so far.

The tricky part is deciding how to weight the various clicks to conversion. Which click was most important in the customer’s journey to conversion? There’s no universal answer to this question – it all depends on your business model. For many marketers it will make sense to weight the first and last click higher than the assisting clicks in-between, as you can see in the graphic above. The first click is given “extra” weight because it was the first touch point that drove a user to the website to begin with (the “acquiring click”), whereas the last click is given similar weight because this is the click that resulted in the conversion (the “conversion click”). When you chart the weights for the various clicks over time in this model, you see a bell curve.

For other marketers, a “time to conversion” approach might be more appropriate. In this model, a click is weighted depending on how long before the purchase it happened, in most cases placing more weight (i.e., assigning more credit for the conversion) to clicks occurring closer to the conversion. Applied to our example, SEO would be given the lowest weight, followed by email marketing, and finally followed by display, which would be weighted highest.

There are many other variations of how to weight clicks within this model, and each marketer should consider the click weighting curve according to the particular sales cycle and business model of his or her online shop. In any case, all eCommerce marketers should carefully allocate the CPO in order to make sure they fine-tune their investments to focus on the channels and vendors that are delivering the best performance.

Hot Tips

When using a Customer Journey attribution model, there are a few exceptions to me made.

First, be sure to exclude your brand keyword clicks from SEM and SEO attribution. Today’s web browsers are built in such a way that many users are likely to use your brand name in search to navigate to your website, instead of typing the full URL. Second, be sure to differentiate between branding and performance effects. Some channels, like display retargeting and some affiliate marketing, display graphic creatives to potential customers. There’s no doubt that these view-through effects are valuable for branding, but they should not be taken into account for performance. Instead, advertisers could consider implementing an additional branding attribution parameter for these channels. Lastly, be aware of the effect that vouchers or discount codes have on total sales, and weight their attribution accordingly.

Up Next: Fine-Tuning Your Investments

Attribution is the first step, but adjusting your spend according to what your attribution tells you is the next frontier. To learn more about fine-tuning your marketing investments based on your attribution model, stay tuned for our next blog post.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 13.27.25Learn more about the different steps in refining attribution models in The Digital Marketer’s Attribution Handbook.