Google Tackles Campaign Attribution with AdWords Search Funnels

There’s been a lot of debate in the analytics community about campaign attribution and how to assign value to the various marketing touch-points that lead to conversions. If you’re new Campaign Attribution you should check out the book Web Analytics 2.0, it has a good, functional overview of the attribution challenge.

Throughout the discussion it has become clear that the classic first click and last click attribution models that many web analytics tools use are flawed. The problem is no one has come forward with a better solution to the attribution issue… until now.

Google has taken a very low-risk move by tackling campaign attribution for AdWords only. The new AdWords Search Funnel reports help marketers understand which cpc ads people see and click on prior to converting.

If you’re looking for details about the reports and how to use them check out the video below from Google. The new Search Funnel reports have not been rolled out yet so no one has had a chance to play with them. Hence no real description here :)

We’ve long known that people see a lot of different cpc ads during a sales cycle. Avinash Kaushik calls these keywords “upper funnel” keywords. They are used by people that are early in the buying cycle. While many of these keywords don’t always lead to a conversion they help educate a potential customer and move then closer to purchasing a product or service.

Even though they do not directly generate revenue there is some value in bidding on upper funnel keywords.

Up until now we haven’t had many ways to help us understand the true value of upper funnel keywords. Sure, we can use time on site or pageviews per visit to measure “engagement”, but that was a bit of a hack. We can also create all sorts of custom JavaScript to store the first click and last click in a Custom Variable. But again, these are just hacks.

The Search Funnel reports are a well thought out way to understand how people interact with AdWords ads prior to conversion and thus help us understand the ROI of our AdWords spend. The reorts provide insight into which keywords

I think this is a good first step by Google. They took reliable set of data that was just sitting around a data center and created some reports that will help marketers understand the real value of different types of keywords. This is all very low risk for Google with very high potential (read: more AdWords revenue).

The Google Analytics Path

But these new reports are also a good test of how users, and the overall analytics market, will respond to Google’s version campaign attribution reporting. Real attribution models are very complicated to create. They involve a lot of data about different types of campaigns (banners, cpc, email, etc.).

[Side note: Why is it that we haven’t seen any DoubleClick data in Google Analytics yet? Pulling that data into GA will be critical for real attribution measurement.]

In addition to the data complexities, every business will have their own way to weight certain marketing activities in an attribution equation. For example, some companies may value email more than paid search. This business logic will be difficult to implement. Not impossible, but difficult.

At the end of the day the new AdWords Funnel reports are exciting. But I’m excited to see how Google takes information about how these reports are used and tackles the bigger challenge of true campaign attribution!

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    1. says

      I can’t wait to dig into this new report. Do you think Google will be releasing the “Opt-out of tracking” plug in for Adwords along with Analytics? I hope not for the sake of these new reports. It could still impact the data in Google Analytics if someone came in through an Adwords ad and opts out of tracking for GA, right? I guess we will have to wait and see. Great post, I can’t wait to have these new reports in front of me.

    2. says

      Glad to see Google starting to offer more on attribution analysis, as this has been one of the major GA limitations for any company with significant media spend.

      But I really hope they won’t limit the first VS last attribution options to Adwords and open it to other channels.

      This brings me to ask you why you say that “no one has come forward with a better solution to the attribution issue… until now”. I don’t think this First and Last click on Adwords only can be seen as an improvement on what other vendors have been offering so far…

      The attribution challenge you refer to is not so much related to how analytics tools (other than Google) allows you to set attribution models, but rather to the lack of proper setup from people/companies not familiar with advanced attribution models and most importantly which model is right for their business.

      • Justin says

        @Philippe: The new AdWords reports offers a lot more than just first and last click. It also offers ‘assists’ to show which ads helped drive conversions, even if the visitor did not click on those ads. You can find a complete list of the new metrics on the AdWords support site.

        I think I agree with you on your comment. I don’t think any vendor has a good attribution feature for the exact reason you mention: there are not many companies that have clearly defined attribution models. I’m not sure that it’s the vendors that should be pushing the attribution models, but the users. I think the vendors needs to create flexible systems that support whatever attribution model a company wants to use.

        Thanks for the comments everyone!


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