Comments around the affiliate channel looking for a new solution to last click is completely fallacious as are many of the articles and panels I have seen around attribution modelling.

I have seen many articles written about attribution models
over the last year along with the flux of roundtables, conference agendas etc.
that now include this mythical model. 

This is much to my frustration as I have yet to see anyone come out and
give me an example of an attribution model that is providing great insight and
benefit to an advertiser. 

An additional
annoyance is that there seems to be much discussion about attribution and the
affiliate channel, with claims that the channel is looking for a “new solution to last click”, which is completely

There are so many incorrect
assumptions about attribution that I felt the need for a myth-buster, and to be
honest a bit of a rant at the so called experts that are frankly filling the
trade press with utter drivel.

Myth 1: the affiliate market is looking for a solution to the last click model

No it isn’t. This is a
channel that pays a commission per sale and the most viable, fair way to do
this is on a last click basis. The industry is not looking at a solution to
replace this, it works. 

However, the
channel, like the rest of the online industry, is looking to understand the
role of its affiliates within the customer buying journey. We want to see to what extent affiliates are contributing
to a sale, whether that is through multiple touch points or one touch point
that did not result in last click. 

This does not mean that as an industry we are looking
to change the payment model. It just
wouldn’t work and to split a commission would be time consuming, resource heavy
and most likely turn out with a similar result to the last click model

All evidence I have seen points
to a split commission model ultimately delivering the same results as last
click. Think about it, it’s likely that
an affiliate will win and lose, therefore end up more or less in the same

There are obviously some areas
of promotion that need to be considered more carefully (voucher and cashback
being the most obvious), but split commission is not the answer just yet in my

Myth 2: attribution
is about splitting commissions

I’m not really sure where this came from; attribution is about
understanding what drove a sale, not splitting commissions. 

Splitting commissions potentially could be an
outcome of understanding and guiding marketing spend to channels driving the
best ROI, but as per above I can’t see how this would work. 

For me, attribution modelling is simply to
understand what drove a sale and how customers interact with a brand and how it
leads to a purchase.

Myth 3: attribution
modelling is all about affiliate marketing

I’m not sure when and where affiliates became the centre of
attention for attribution modelling as I see it as a vital tool across all
online (and offline) channels. 

Typically, big brands spend a lot of marketing cash on getting people to
the top of the funnel, common sense and evidence shows this tends to be the
display model. 

I personally see an
attribution model initially being fundamental to understand if and where this
spend is working, what part of your display plan is driving people into the
funnel and what isn’t. 

If I, as an
online marketing manager, could understand this then I would invest my marketing
budget where it is most effective. A
similar story for social media and long tail search terms. 

The affiliate channel has developed and can
be seen as a driver for the top of the funnel as well as the bottom of the
funnel, so attribution modelling does apply here as well but it is no more important
or less important than understanding attribution across all channels. 

Of course the affiliate channel is complex in
that it consists of hundreds of affiliate sites, but so do display media plans
and long tail search strategies.

The need for data

I am by no means an expert in this field but I think
advertisers / agencies / networks need to start thinking about what attribution
really is and I would love to see some real data and conclusions start to come
out of this rather than conference agendas essentially about Clients de-duping,
which is not an attribution model.

Looking at attribution within the affiliate channel
specifically is complex and I see it developing to potentially offering a wider
variety of payment models to affiliates. 

For example, a large affiliate publisher is not that different to a
display publisher, so why not look at post impression tracking potentially or
paying a fixed cost to secure traffic levels.

My thoughts on attribution modelling are:

  • It is a tool to understand touch points within the customer journey which includes but is not limited to display, affiliate, mobile, social media, natural search, paid search and direct traffic.   
  • This should provide insight into how best to spend marketing budget not split commissions.
  • It should inform the advertiser about the customer journey and present opportunities to improve and invest in key areas. 

I recently attended an attribution session and at the end of one of the panels a question was put forward to the panel which consisted of advertisers and a technology provider that had implemented an attribution model.

The question went something like this “So, can you tell me what changes you have made to your marketing strategy since implementing an attribution model. For example did you find opportunities to move marketing spend to more effective areas of a channel or from one channel to another?”  

None of the panel could answer this and openly admitted that they didn’t know…