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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!