Click Only Attribution & the Death of Common Sense

Click Only Attribution & the Death of Common Sense

James Moore on December 3, 2012 at 10:27 am @

Back in May, I wrote a blog post documenting the top 10 alternatives to “Last Touch” attribution. Last touch is the common practice of awarding credit for an online conversion to the last advertising vendor to put an impression in front of a user before that user returns to a website and converts. This methodology […]

Back in May, I wrote a blog post documenting the top 10 alternatives to “Last Touch” attribution. Last touch is the common practice of awarding credit for an online conversion to the last advertising vendor to put an impression in front of a user before that user returns to a website and converts.

This methodology for awarding credit to a display vendor is very common, often manipulated and highly illogical. I wish I could say that the absence of common sense begins and ends with “last touch,” but, alas, it gets worse.

Very often, direct brand and agency contacts buying display media will make a certain statement that defies all reasonable logic; and, if you are a sales professional in the online display ecosystem, you’ve probably heard it plenty of times:

“I Don’t Believe In The View-Through”

A “view-through,” also referred to as a “post-impression” conversion, is when a consumer takes an action as a result of being shown a display ad, but does not click on the ad itself.

Unfortunately in 2013, I personally will speak with hundreds of media buying professionals and will encounter many individuals who claim they don’t believe a display ad influences an action if the ad is not clicked on. Loosely translated, there are thousands of professionals in the marketing industry who are saying they don’t believe human beings can be influenced to take an action as a result of something viewed with their eyes.

There have been studies dating back more than three years that have validated the view-through phenomenon. In fact, these studies have shown that display ads do more than create return visitors to your website who convert. Display ads also influence actions taken via other online channels such as search marketing and social media.

Display advertising helps create demand; search marketing and social media can help capture that demand.

You Might Believe In A View-Through If…

In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck if,” here are some clues that you may actually believe people are influenced by what they see with their eyes:

  • You might believe in a view-through if you have ever put on make-up, combed your hair or cared about the clothes you wear to make an impression
  • You might believe in a view-through if you have ever read a description of a food item on a menu and subsequently decided to order or not order that food item
  • Your company might believe in a view-through conversion if they have ever spent one dollar placing their logo on a building, t-shirt or on any client-facing marketing piece
  • Your company might believe in a view-through conversion if they’ve ever spent one dollar on advertising outside of radio (hear-through) or coupons, since no offline advertising is click-based

“I Don’t Want To Pay for A View-Through”

So, the simple reality is that everyone believes in a view-through conversion. Many advertisers simply don’t want to pay for them and/or give a vendor credit for them. The reasons for this are many, and an educated buyer could address all of them if they were so inclined.

Here are three common reasons why a media buyer doesn’t want to give an online display campaign any post-impression conversion credit:

1. It’s just a good old fashioned purchasing tactic. If you knew you could purchase advertising from a vendor and only pay for, or give credit for, that which you could 100% tie back to the advertisement, wouldn’t you?

2. Another vendor, perhaps one that starts with a “G,” and rhymes with bugle, is taking credit for driving the traffic, even though a display ad drove the consumer to search in the first place. If you knew you were going to have to pay a vendor for conversions they did not influence — a vendor who you can’t really fire nor negotiate with — wouldn’t you force the other display ad vendors to give up their rightful claim on the conversion?

3. They simply can’t prove the conversion is the result of being influenced by the display ad, or if users were influenced by the ad alone. This is probably the most reasonable and logical explanation. But, in today’s world, A/B testing, multi-variant testing and affordable attribution measurement tools are abundant. It can be argued that advertisers who are not using these tools to validate the impact of impression-based conversions are simply choosing not to measure, and this goes back to reason number one. It’s a purchasing tactic.

Dangerous Consequences

In the end, I have concluded that it is OK if a media buyer wants to purchase display advertising on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis or some other performance-based pricing model.

However, if they are insisting that their ad buys be optimized and measured based exclusively on the actions of those who click on the ad, then they are playing a very dangerous game with their brand.

You see, once again, there are mountains of empirical evidence to suggest that relatively few online consumers account for a very high percentage of clicks. This isn’t new information and it has not really changed over the years despite improvements in ad personalization.

Further, Facebook recently wrote about its new tracking method called the “view tag” that looks beyond clicks. Initial results show 87% of conversions come from impressions, not clicks. The only evidence to the contrary is whitepapers and studies funded by companies pushing their CPC pricing models and using their own data to validate their position.

So, those who click versus those who take some other action are the few. They exhibit minority behavior when compared to those who browse directly, perform a search, or navigate to a social media page seeking further discounts, for example.

Purple Fur Coats

It is dangerous to build your business around the behavior of the outliers. Can you imagine a retail store learning that 10% of their clientele are interested in purple fur coats and ignoring completely what is actually being purchased by the 90% who show no interest in purple or coats?

When a media buyer judges an online display vendor-based exclusively on click-based conversions they are, in fact, asking for the campaign to be shaped around behavior that is fundamentally different than 90% of their audience exhibits.

Time and time again, direct response display campaigns with a conversion pixel placed have shown that some of the highest converting networks, exchanges and publishers in the campaign may be those with the lowest number of clicks.

So, the logic is pretty simple. In order to drive more click conversions, you need to drive more clicks. In order to drive more clicks, you may be optimizing away from some of the highest converting inventory in the campaign.

The question is, “how will the CEO feel when he knows his or her marketing dollars are being directed in a manner that subsequently results in loss of online sales that were possible because the campaign did not react to the behavior of the majority?”

The Solution Is Not A Mystery

There are going to be media buyers for content-based publishers and e-commerce websites who may read this and have very strong opinions to the contrary. In fact, they may have had first-hand success in click-only attribution models that are worth singing from the mountaintops.

My call-to-action is simply that moving forward, we should agree to prove it, embrace attribution measurement technology, and engage in some A/B tests that seem reasonable and transparent in methodology.

If the data support that optimizing to clicks will drive more conversions, then I will be first in line on the click bandwagon. The solution, however, is that direct response display buys should be about incremental conversions with or without the click.