Understanding Attribution

Attribution in the digital marketing world is about how you tie results to your digital marketing efforts.

Today’s customer buying journey is complicated “like a sightseeing tour with stops, exploration, and discussion along the way—all moments when you need to convince people to pick your brand and stick with it instead of switching to a competitor.”*

Instead of search, click, browse, buy… the journey of a someone interested in a product might go something like this:

  1. Searches on Google for ‘top-rated project management software’

  2. Clicks on a paid search ad

  3. Browses the website, reading the homepage, features, and pricing pages

  4. Opens another browser tab, does another Google search to compare the platform against competitors

  5. Ends up on YouTube, watching a video review about the platform

  6. Gets distracted by a friend on Instagram, abandons the initial search

  7. Several days later is retargeted by the project management software company on Facebook and signs up for a free trial

And while the great thing about digital marketing, is that you can set up conversion tracking and directly measure the results of campaigns… this long and complicated buying process makes the results of a campaign difficult to measure and attribute success accurately.

Advertisers many years ago were not able to do this so simply and directly, and this is part of the appeal of digital marketing. Marketing directors and execs are more than happy to move budget from traditional media like TV and radio, to online channels where the promise of measurable results await.

Sounds awesome, what is the problem then?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as you think. There are inherent flaws in the how we measure, and what we are able to measure. And it may be helpful to know that every organization, large and small are dealing with attribution challenges in their marketing.

Here are a few key issues with measurability and attribution:

1. Digital ad platforms don’t communicate with each other

If you are running campaigns on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn at the same time, you will get campaign reporting from each of these platforms. But none of these platforms will communicate with each other so you end up with your data in dreaded ‘silos’.

This means if LinkedIn tells you that you got 50 conversions, and Facebook tells you that you got 50 conversions - you may only have gotten 50 real conversions and not 100. Or you may have gotten 75, 53, or 92...

Without knowing exactly who converted, and what marketing they were exposed to at every step, you can’t truly understand the effectiveness of each channel.

2. Trackability issues

The simple fact is that you won’t be able to track all of the results of your campaigns. There are several reasons for this:

  • Private browsing:

    • Private Browsing protects private information and blocks websites from tracking behavior. It also prevents the ability to remarket to someone.

  • Cookie deletion:

    • Cookies are a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user's computer by the user's web browser while the user is browsing. Cookies often get deleted by users and in some cases don’t get accepted by the browser in the first place.

  • Organic search data encryption:

    • Google protects its users by encrypting all of their organic search data and not sharing it with anyone. While this makes it more difficult to track and optimize organic search efforts, you can still get most of this data if you are running paid search campaigns.

  • Device and browser switching:

    • People tend to have more than one device that they access the web on (laptop, desktop computer, mobile phone, e-reader etc.)

    • That creates difficulty in measuring the impact of a user seeing an ad on one device and converting on another.

  • Conversions that happen outside of the measurement window:

    • Some conversions can happen several months later. This will be especially true for purchases that have a long consideration period.


  • Accept that at least for now, you won’t be able to measure everything and that is OK! Focus on running the best campaigns possible, and use what you can measure from the platform data to optimize.

  • Deeply understand your target audience, so that you can target them accurately.

  • Use AdWords quality score and Facebook relevance score to perfect your target audience/message match.

  • Look at your overall results from your sales tracking tool - how are sales performing this year compared to last year?

  • If you can afford it, deploy measurement platforms like Attribution App, or Convertro that give you the ability to track and de-duplicate your marketing efforts across channels (note that event these platforms won’t be able to track everything).