Attribution Exposed: What Content Marketers Need to Know

Last December I wrote about marketing’s attribution problem. I made the case that we need new and better ways to track the content we produce so that great content can get the credit it deserves for driving conversions. Based on all the responses I received, the article clearly struck a chord. Now it’s time to take a deeper dive and look more specifically at the good, the bad, and the ugly of marketing attribution.


The Good

Every marketer wants to know what works and what doesn’t. That’s why attribution is so important. And while we might not yet be able to do as much tracking and crediting as we’d like, marketing attribution vendors are improving their capabilities all the time. A marketer can now easily see the full chain of media touchpoints (multiple-touch attribution) that consumers are exposed to before they make a purchase or take a desired action on the marketer’s website. And vendors can now report on click-based, view-through, and even offline touchpoints, such as direct mail.

“With marketing attribution, you know precisely which touchpoints produce the highest returns,” Brad Morris, director of marketing ops and analytics at Zendesk, tells me.

Zendesk uses Convertro to track their search engine marketing (SEM), retargeting, email, and content marketing campaigns, and, according to Morris, the implementation was fast. “The best part about multiple-touch attribution platforms such as Convertro is that we can also track how consumers engaged with our campaigns – even though they are not clicking on our assets,” Morris says, referring to the practice of view-through attribution.

Convertro works its magic by injecting a piece of code into display ads, making it possible to track unique impressions, and thus truly measure the effect of a retargeting campaign – whether or not the user clicked on an asset.

Among other things, this means that content marketers can track any click or view of a given piece of online content, so that the impact of paid, owned, and also earned media can be measured effectively. Better yet, the impact of the owned assets on your site, SEM, display, Facebook, email campaigns, and even offline campaigns can be measured and reported in a simple user interface.

Interestingly, Convertro has developed an algorithmic attribution model that can determine which asset or campaign has the largest influence on the buying decision. And if you’re a B2B marketer, all this information is available at the individual (lead) level through a robust integration with customer relationship management (CRM) tools, such as Salesforce. Not too shabby.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the news isn’t all good. Not even Convertro can track everything – at least, not yet.

Advanced content marketers use an arsenal of campaigns, and one of the most common tactics is to distribute content outside or your website. This is where attribution falls short. A byline that lives on an external website (ClickZ, for example) doesn’t allow for a piece of code to be added to the page. Unless the user clicks on a link in the byline, attribution vendors simply have no way of measuring how these externally published pieces impact the purchase funnel. And that’s not all. Attribution vendors also have no way of tracking content that’s organically distributed on popular sites, such as SlideShare or LinkedIn.

Fortunately, the majority of a company’s content generally resides on the company’s own properties. And we may yet witness the day when the problem of crediting content on external sites is solved. Perhaps we’ll one day see the emergence of tag exchanges where attribution companies will be able to drop tags on the majority of publishers. After all, almost everyone stands to benefit when we know which marketing tactics work best.

The Ugly


Yes, there’s always “the ugly.” By now we hope you’ve embraced the power of multiple-touch attribution. Because the last-click attribution model simply doesn’t cut it anymore. As Casey Carey, chief marketing officer (CMO) at Adometry puts it, “The Zombie method of last-click [will live] on in 2014; it will just become less prevalent.”


If you can’t afford to buy a license to run advanced multiple-touch attribution from the likes of Convertro, Adometry, or another vendor, then, at the very least, you’ve got to make sure that your marketing automation vendor offers basic multiple-touch attributions. Marketo – and I’m sure many others vendors – offer basic multiple-touch tools. They are click-based only, meaning they won’t be able to effectively measure display campaigns, but the tools come right out of the box. And they’re still a great improvement on last-click.

In other words, marketing might still have some attribution problems, but the situation no longer needs to get ugly. 

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