What’s the latest trend in search engine marketing? Attribution, my friends. If “plastic” was the secret to success in the 1960s, the 2010s will be attribution (well, at least for SEM). Since most search marketers are quant nerds, there has been a constant need to get better and better data about who is buying, what they are buying, how they arrived at their decision, and why.

Web analytics was a good start toward getting this sort of info. Combining Web analytics with search engine-specific tracking pixels, and then overlaying both with aggregated third party data sources like Compete and Quantcast was the next evolution. And now we are on to attribution.

I see several types of attribution that are important for SEM:

  • Multi-channel attribution: When a user clicks on several marketing channels, how do you attribute the conversion amongst all of them?
  • Multi-click attribution: When a user clicks on several keywords on the same search engine, do you give credit to the first click, last click, both, or neither?
  • Post-cookie attribution: If a user converts after your tracking cookie expires (usually a 30 day cookie), how do you attribute this revenue to your marketing?
  • Offline attribution: What happens when someone clicks on your ad but then picks up the phone and calls your sales team and buys from you?
  • Lifetime value attribution: Are you attributing orders that come in months or years down the road to your SEM keyword?
  • True revenue attribution: What happens if you have a lot of returns or cancellations – are you subtracting this from your ROI calculations?

Marketers that can get a handle on these issues have a huge advantage over marketers who continue to rely only on the Google Conversion tracker or Google Analytics (or any basic Web analytics package). In the last few months, I’ve seen some interesting tools that are attempting to solve this attribution issue. Included in the list of notable companies: Convertro, ClearSaleing, and the Google Analytics Super Cookie (the name alone merits mention)! I have also heard that Kenshoo is promoting their attribution model in their pitches, and that the other campaign management companies either already offer an attribution model or are quickly building systems to integrate into their existing platforms.

This is all great stuff and I am personally excited to dig into these tools and try to fully figure out attribution for my clients. I’ll update this post in a couple months with some (hopefully) good results!


  1. Robert Gowans February 18th, 2010


    Excellent post.

    A Marketing Director friend of mine had mentioned a couple of months ago that she was working on research around attribution, mainly on how traditional and display advertising impacts search through to purchase, but I had no idea that there were functioning tools out there.

    I’ve added Convertro (http://bit.ly/aDqLS6) and ClearSaleing (http://bit.ly/cfKtK0) to Marketing Tool Ratings – http://www.marketingtoolratings.com

    It would be great to get some reviews of these nextgen tools in the near future.

    Thanks again for a great post, Robert

  2. David February 23rd, 2010

    I agree. Good post. Although this is stuff that is way beyond some people’s understanding of what they need to/want to know, it was cool for an SEM geek like myself. The way we attribute the 30 day cookie data at http://www.betterbid.com is on the day that the revenue occurs. It would be great to attribute it back to the day and hope the KW could just do better but if you give 20 – 30 days leeway on all your keywords with the hope you will get a sale 20 days later, you can really waste a bunch of money.

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.