Tracking: The Key to Digital Marketing Attribution


One of the greatest benefits of digital marketing is the ability to build attribution and reporting systems that work across any technology platform.

By Chris Marentis

Customers see multiple marketing messages and have to be nurtured through several channels before they say “yes” and take advantage of marketing services. Marketers work hard to analyze and give credit to the channels that contributed to the customer journey through the path of purchase. This is key to evaluating an investment in that channel.

Even with the multitude of ways of tracking visitors to digital properties that exist today, channel attribution in digital marketing is still a challenge. Just when everyone was getting comfortable with web analytics, along came the multiple devices and a whole new customer behavior trend on tablets and phones. The easiest form of sizing up engangement is the last click attribution, however it’s not always the right thing to measure.

In a 2012 study Google conducted with eConsultancy, most marketers responded similarly about marketing attribution:

  • 72 percent agreed that marketing attribution leads to better budget allocations,
  • 63 percent gained a better understanding of how digital channels work together, and
  • 58 percent had clearer insights into their audience.

Reality is that customer may have heard about you via:

  • A shared your Facebook post,
  • A Google search that returns a blog post,
  • A YouTube video explaining how to solve a small problem, or
  • A presentation on Slideshare while conducting pre-sales research.

These actions can lead directly or indirectly to sales. To complicate things further, customers will often encounter your content online several times before they make a purchase or even sign up for email updates. The last asset leading to you, or last touch, may not be the one that made the most impact.

Trend Change Coming

A leading trend in 2016 will be a focus around attribution to be able to credit the marketing spend to the right channels.

How will marketing attribution affect your franchise system?  Central to the growth of any local or national business is the investment of capital into promotional activities and lead nurture in order to generate more sales of services or products. 

While it can be a challenge to get your franchisees to make the right investment in marketing their businesses, this can be due to difficulty to specifically demonstrate what is working in the marketing mix. This often results in a limited investment in marketing, which in turn directly affects the revenue potential and growth of any franchisee. 

Your franchisees may make the assumption that because a specific marketing activity didn’t work as expected, the answer is a reduction in how much they invest. With the help of attribution marketing, there are two things you can educate them about to refute this idea.

First, since attribution tells your franchisee which marketing activity definitively contributed directly to a sale, you can show exactly where a higher investment should lead to more sales, all other things being equal. Secondly, you can show franchisees how other marketing initiatives contribute to a sale indirectly, so they know not to abandon all marketing efforts when there isn’t an immediate and direct result.

Franchisors with strong reporting and attribution abilities will be better able to make these educated decisions based on performance and real metrics. This increases the trust across your system by accurately demonstrating what specific marketing campaigns will produce the greatest return to each local business owner/operator. 

Perhaps one of the greatest upsides of digital marketing is the ability to build attribution and reporting systems to work across any technology platform. Building in attribution starts at the top, with the franchisors investment in the chosen platform.

The key to marketing attribution is tracking.

What can you do to start implementing better marketing attribution now?

The key to marketing attribution is tracking. Your franchisees need to have the right reporting software upfront, so that they can track marketing activities from beginning to end. While it may be difficult to reverse-engineer tracking into past marketing campaigns, there are steps you can take going forward that will make it easier.

Multiple Landing Pages

Let’s say you have an ad that appears on several different websites. You can create a duplicate landing page for each offer. This way, even if someone gets your link on Facebook and emails it to a friend, who then makes a purchase, you’ll know the initial discovery was on Facebook because they used the Facebook landing page.

You will want to avoid issues with organic search counting them as duplicate content, however. Search engines tend to filter out multiple copies of the same content in their efforts to serve unique and accurate results for queries. To combat this, your webmaster can block the page from being “spidered” by Google or Bing, but not from being measured by Google Analytics or your in-house program.

Tracking Links

You can’t always use multiple landing pages. For example, with blog posts, you’d spend an awful lot of time creating a duplicate one for each new entry.

Using in-house server-side software, custom domain link shorteners or tools like Bitly, you can create special links that track when and where your clicks originate. It doesn’t quite solve the problem of several encounters of a page, but this is not as important for content marketing as it is when you’re tracking a page that leads directly to an offer or subscription sign up.

Tracking Codes

You can use also build tracking codes at the end of URLs. You may have seen these before when browsing the Internet where a normal link is appended with a question mark, the letters “UTM” and various other parameters. These are commonly called Urchin Tracking Modules, after the name of the software that eventually became Google Analytics, which has a tool called a URL builder that will help create these codes if you use their analytics software as part of your platform. You then need reporting software or export functions set up to recognize these links as being different from the default, and count them as such.

What are some key elements for successful marketing attribution? Ideally, you want to have all of your reporting and analytics being tracked in one central location. Normally, if you want to find out how a particular sale happens, there’s a lot of manual action and labor involved. Each system that has a hand in tracking the sale has data to contribute, and it’s not always in the same format. You may get a PDF for one data set and an Excel spreadsheet for another.

Once all the data is formatted in the same way and set up to be analyzed, someone will still have to pour through the data to find answers. This is why it’s important, if at all possible, to have one system that can pull data from multiple platforms and present it in a way that is useful from the perspective of marketing, sales or technology.

Successful marketing attribution also requires that you understand the value of your marketing channels. For many businesses, a Facebook referral will be much more valuable than one from a website. For others, it may depend on which website. The only way to know is to continue to look at your data, identify key performance indicators, and develop a formula for lifetime customer value.

Knowing the lifetime value of the customer and access to better marketing attribution can present a more accurate idea of how much you need to spend to attain that customer. If you can use this data to reduce your spend-per-acquisition, that increase can become pure profit.

It’s also important, when comparing, to look at chunks of data in order to see trends. Things like organic search traffic volume naturally fluctuate even when things are going well. A bit of day-to-day or even week-to-week flux is natural. You need at least a month of data to see true overall impact of changes you may have implemented on organic search results.

Every franchise system has a unique set of tools it uses for marketing, so there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. To jump-start the process for your franchise, examine your current processes and define the gaps in reporting and system integration. The transparency that is built into your marketing with attribution will, in most cases, save you money by helping spend your marketing dollars more effectively and efficiently.

Chris Marentis is CEO of Surefire Social. Find him at