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Here's How You Should Be Attributing Conversions

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

At GeistM, we see engagement averaging 3-5 minutes on a page for our sponsored articles. Considering most people don't have the attention span to sit through the end of a 30 second video spot, that kind of engagement is a clear indication of the unique strength of sponsored content: it draws in audiences banner ads don't -- people who are skeptical or otherwise not ready to buy -- and creates a compelling story that gives them much needed information while keeping the product on their mind for longer.

Because sponsored content provides a complex service, a lot of thought goes into how to best measure a campaign's success. Then there's all the different types of attribution -- do you go first touch or last touch? Clicks, views, impressions, 28 days, 1 day … you can quantify attribution by just about anything under the sun, which is frankly overwhelming. Ultimately, when it comes to content marketing we've tried it all, and we by far advise first touch attribution. Here's why, plus a few other attribution learning's we've gathered along the way.

A last touch model makes it difficult to track conversions. Consider the user journey: How often are you reading articles online, sitting down at your computer, with your wallet in hand, totally ready to make a purchase if something happens to spark your interest online? Not very often. More likely, you might be at work, read an article, then wait until your lunch break or even until you get home to buy. When you come back a few hours later, you don't try to find the article again, you just Google Search the product. If you're using last-touch conversion attribution, Google Search would get the conversion credit, even though the content fueled the purchase.

Or, maybe it's pulling at the back of your mind that you should probably buy a new mattress soon, but you're not moving so you don't have a timely impetus to pull the trigger. You read an article online about that includes testimonials about a particular brand, and you're convinced that it sounds like the right one for you -- but you need to wait two weeks until payday to actually buy. In the meantime, you'll probably search the product and browse the landing page, or Google alternatives to compare prices. This is where attribution windows come into play, especially for pricier products. First touch attribution should be combined with a wide enough attribution window, or timeline to capture a conversion, to measure the efficacy of the content.

So how do you settle on an attribution window? Especially considering sponsored content is prospecting new, different customers than other marketing ventures, it's not an easy question. The answer is, when it comes to attribution, there is no magic formula. You have to run tests to collect data, analyze and apply, rinse and repeat. That's GeistM's bread and butter. If 90% or more people convert within one day of first contact, then set the attribution at first touch with a one day window. But that's an incredibly rare case. For purchases that require more consideration, last touch with a 14-28 day attribution window is likely advisable.

GeistM also looks at the history of brands in similar verticals to determine an appropriate attribution plan for new clients. Depending on whether you're selling $30 mascara, $100 a month dog food, or a $1,000 mattress, GeistM can use internal data from products in similar price points and targeting similar audiences to help make the most appropriate choice for brands first venturing sponsored content.

Then there's Blackfire, GesitM's sophisticated tracking technology, which can generate a stories report for every person that converts after coming into contact with their sponsored content. The report is a complete attribution game changer, tracking customer behavior to show a definitive journey of each purchase. Buyer 1 looked at the content early in the morning, Googled the landing page later that night, then bought the following day? Blackfire can track journeys down to the minute to give brands a clear idea of how a customer comes to purchase. That's invaluable information for any marketing venture.

Measuring attribution for sponsored content is a delicate balancing act. Without knowing a consumer's mind, you'll never know for sure how influential a piece of content was to their decision to buy. But, using data, GeistM is getting pretty close. And if our tech still hasn't advanced to mind-reading, we can certainly set effective attribution parameters.