AdWords Attribution: What it Means and How it Helps

26 May 2016

AdWords Attribution: What it Means and How it Helps

When somebody makes a purchase on your website, do you know how they got there? Do you understand which ad copy or heading leads to the most sales? Do you understand the journey of your best customers?

It pays to have a clear picture of how people are finding your website but, on its own, that is not enough. You need to specifically understand how people who make a purchase found you, and what their journey from first discovering your brand to ultimately buying from you looked like.

Did they first visit your website after clicking a link on Twitter, then later bought your product after seeing and clicking an AdWords ad? Did they come to your site via one paid search ad and click several times through other ads before giving you a sale?

Being able to attribute sales to specific touchpoints (i.e. clicks) means you can target your marketing to the places that deliver the best results for you. And, within Google AdWords, you can use such attribution data to tailor your ads to get the highest conversions.

Since 2014, Google AdWords has extended its initial attribution capabilities to full-on attribution modelling, where you can choose to apply different weights to different touchpoints in your buyer’s journey.

AdWords offers the following attribution models to choose from:

  • Last click: the conversion is attributed to the most recent click in the series, which is given credit for the sale
  • First click: the conversion is attributed to the first click that is recorded by the customer. This can help to provide information about how the customer initially discovered your brand
  • Position-based: 40% of the conversion is attributed to the first click, 40% to the final click, and the remaining 20% is the clicks and interactions that took place in between
  • Time decay: the most recent clicks receive the most weight when considering the attribution of a conversion, while earlier touchpoints are given less weight
  • Linear: the conversion is attributed to every touchpoint in the process, equally.

Choosing which attribution model to use is not straight forward and AdWords attribution modelling only uses paid clicks in its process, it is strongly advisable to use it in combination with Google Analytics, which offers similar attribution functionality that acknowledges organic and social clicks alongside the paid search data.

What’s the latest?

Google has now announced that, from the end of this month, AdWords users will be able to use their attribution modelling and integrate it with your bids and conversion data.

Joan Arensen, Product Manager at AdWords, explains,

“For each conversion type, use a simple drop-down menu in Conversion settings to select one of six different attribution models -- last click, first click, linear, time decay, position-based, or data driven. When you pick a new model, credit will be reassigned across the conversion path for all search or shopping ad clicks on Google.com, and your conversion stats will change moving forward. You can adjust bids based on your new way of counting conversions, and if you’re using automated bidding for search ads, your bids will be optimized automatically to reflect your new model.”

What’s next?

If we could see inside Google’s vast brain to predict its future moves, we would be very knowledgeable indeed. It seems likely that data from touchpoints other than paid search ads will be included in AdWords attribution modelling at some stage, although the crossover with Analytics means those metrics are still available to AdWords users.

Information about user intent may also grow in importance, which could help webmasters to understand the buyer journey and thus optimise their ads and websites to improve conversions.