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Breaking Out of Last-Click Attribution Toward the Holistic Marketing Mix

  |  June 21, 2013   |  Comments

Here are some steps that you can take in order to invest in your campaign to turn it into a true search engine marketing campaign as opposed to a demand-harvesting machine.

Most search marketers are scared. They are scared of moving from last-click attribution to a more holistic marketing mix. Even "keyword assists" are looked at dubiously by some marketing departments. Both the data and their gut tell them one can't grow a campaign or a business based purely on last-click attribution. Or can one? Let's look beyond the fear at the realities. The fear (and it's a real one) is that once one takes attribution credit away from the last click, the allowable bid price on that keyword no longer allows for high position. Once that position is lost, there goes the late-funnel touch point. Consequently, the section of the campaign that relies on the last touch point for volume collapses.

If this describes your situation, you aren't alone, and you may in fact be in the majority. The fault is not yours; paid placement search marketing evolved from a time when CPCs were in their teens and lower. It was trivially easy to make the case for budget purely based on last-click data, even with lots of positive factors and behaviors not counted at all.

Those days are gone. Now it's sometimes a challenge to find ways to justify the bids based on immediate conversions, so any dilution of value is indeed a risk to the status quo.

Here are some steps that you can take in order to invest in your campaign to turn it into a true search engine marketing campaign as opposed to a demand-harvesting machine (not that there's anything wrong with demand harvesting, but campaigns can be so much more). Search marketing campaigns should reflect the full capabilities of what search can deliver, not just immediate buyers and immediate online conversions, but also those 95 percent of non-brand searchers that are still weighing their brand and vendor options.

These solutions will help you justify campaign changes even if that means the reports that you pass up the line report ROI in a different way. Remember to factor in the following as you think about your campaigns, your reporting, and your KPIs:

  1. Cookie erosion. Even your last-click conversion rate understates your true conversion rate due to deleted, filtered, and blocked cookies.
  2. Mobile to desktop/laptop/tablet conversion loss. Converting on a mobile device is generally still a pain in the rear. Yet, it's really handy to use mobile search when filling in one's time during commutes and boring meetings at work, and people use all sorts of ways to continue previous browsing sessions, including emailing themselves URLs or through Chrome's synchronization.

Then start to think about your product or service. Determine whether or not it is a high-involvement or low-involvement purchase or conversion decision. The more high-involvement your prospect's decision, the more important it is that you move away from purely a last-click model and at least evaluate the role of other influencing marketing (keywords and other forms including social media, display, video, and even offline marketing.)

On a similar topic, how complicated is the product or service? Is it really easy to explain? The more education your product or service requires, the more you'll need to calculate the importance of assist keywords and early touch points.

Will emotion be required to trigger the purchase intent or influence eventual purchase or conversion to a lead? Online and offline video are great at that. So, not only should your landing pages incorporate video options, but your marketing plan should probably include video advertising (at least as a test).

Consider the preferred modes of purchase. If you have an online and offline store presence, then despite the fact that your CEO may have the P&L of the online division completely separated from that of the stores, it doesn't make sense to ignore the foot traffic driven from search marketing. Similarly, for high-involvement purchases and decisions, consumers often want to call and talk to someone. Try to get a handle on how often that happens. While tracking phone numbers and extensions can be used to dial this into the keyword level, the most important thing is simply to get an idea of the order of magnitude for this effect.

Highly successful businesses - even direct response businesses - have been built on top of marketing KPIs that create demand, not just harvest it (do you think there was pent-up demand for a Foreman Grill? No, TV infomercials created the demand).

When considering non-search media and its effectiveness, consider how easily the target audience can be isolated. For example, model train hobbyists or golfers are easy to find in comparison to folks who might consider taking an online cooking course.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.


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Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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