Attribution is the Mother of Conversion

By Jeff Eckman

CEO, Big Giant Conversions


“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I just don’t know which half.” —John Wanamaker, 1838 to 1922*


Thanks to modern marketing technology and the commercialization of the internet, we now have the tools to know which half of John Wanamaker’s advertising budget was wasted. But the direct marketer has always held an advantage over the traditional brand marketer. Brand advertisers still rely on loose correlations to prove efficacy. The direct marketer (that is, most anyone who is involved in conversion optimization) has the rock-solid power of causality, and the ability to use attribution, to continuously optimize results. This often gets forgotten in all the commotion over analytics, digital media, marketing automation, which landing page color is better, etc. So, it’s time to go back to the basics, and remind ourselves that attribution is the mother of conversion.

But first, reflect for a moment: in this day and age, are there any excuses not to not take full advantage of the attribution potential that technology provides? Our marketing “founding fathers” had to go to extensive lengths to attribute a lead or sale to a specific marketing message—it would be doing them a disservice to not take full advantage of the resources available to the modern day marketer!

Before landing page optimization, before conversion optimization or before concerns about statistical significance, we must architect good, clean systems for attribution which will inform all downstream efforts. Modern technology allows for this, but only if we put systems in place to ensure it is accurate and meaningful. There are myriad systems out there for gathering the raw data and establishing genuinely causal “A leads to B leads to C” relationships. The key is implementing relevant and simple tracking mechanisms, then letting our natural human gifts of observation and creativity guide us toward optimized performance.

Attribution Types

The path to successful attribution can start by identifying different types.

  • Consider classifying attribution into two categories: macro (e.g. click to sale) and micro (e.g. completed form to sales consultation).
  • Then, identify which of these is most important in optimizing results. Attributing specific media buys should be considered especially critical, given the high cost of media relative to other downstream processes.
  • Macro attribution is probably important to every one, but don’t ignore the little things—they can really help pick out problem spots in the funnel.
  • Not all data is important data. Identifying focus points, looking for relevant attribution, helps in wading through large volumes of data, to ultimately focus on what really matters in driving results.



Back to basics: Why bother with attribution in the first place?

  • If, for example, we are discreetly tracking results to each of several ads we have in market, proper attribution allows us to know which ad is generating the most volume, the best end results, etc. That specific advertisement can then have more budget devoted to it, leading toward a more optimized state.
  • Attribution makes content matching possible in the creative. Let’s say in one ad, there was a promotional offer for a free widget. By attributing the potential lead to that specific ad, it allows all of the next steps to be relevant. Now, any messaging further downstream can reference the promotional offer, personalizing the engagement.
  • Attribution generates clear, relevant data. Attribution allows a marketer to know which ad combinations are generating positive results further down the funnel.


Attribution Informs Testing

In the world of online testing and optimization, a page or experience is never declared the winner for long. The process continues in a cyclical fashion with results from test 1 helping to set the stage for test 2, and so on. Without good attribution, you may only have half a test, at best. Here are some questions that can only be answered with good attribution, and are critical to a truly meaningful test:

  • While you may know which test won, what was the source of traffic that drove to the test?
  • Did visitors come from online or offline?  Did callers get our number from the magazine ad or TV? Where were the form fills from?
  • Which ads or campaigns are performing well and thus warrant a bigger spend and which are performing poorly and need to be dialed down?


Better Market Intelligence

With proper attribution in place, you can look for strengths and weaknesses across different channels, market segments, offers, time of day, creative/messaging and all types of demographics. Beyond the boost this can provide to your conversion efforts, think about what you can learn about your new customers as well as non-converters—your potential customers who decided not to commit:

  • Which ads are connecting better?
  • Is there a certain ad generating a lot of response at the top of your marketing funnel but failing to deliver conversions?
  • What is the perfect combo of audience to ad to experience that generates the best results?


Conversion optimization, when done right, is a constantly evolving, virtuous cycle of growth, which attribution enables. At the end of the day, if we have succeeded in developing a causal relationship between the initial entry point from a marketing message, and the eventual conversion (or lack thereof), we can sleep well knowing which half of our advertising spend has been wasted. We can then rise the next day and shift our spending to the better-performing half. And, for now, let’s leave correlated relationships to the brand marketers, until they invite us to visit them on Madison Avenue.


* quote 100% attributed to John Wanamaker. just sayin.



About the Author

bgc ceo jeff eckmanJeff Eckman is the CEO of BigGiantConversions, a marketing startup that is boosting returns and consumer engagement from traditional and online marketing and advertising. Mr. Eckman has led conversion engagements with national and regional brands including California Closets, Athenahealth, Inc., and Children’s Hospital Boston, and the firm routinely partners with complementary marketing innovators including Digitas and ion interactive.

Mr. Eckman earned his BS in Operations Technology at Northeastern University, and holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. For over 14 years, he has been the drummer for Boston’s “Pressure Cooker,” an original reggae act. Jeff is also actively involved in regional business and community organizations.

See Jeff Live!

Jeff and Ginny Snook Scott from California Closets will be presenting a session on “How California Closets Boosted Revenues with Segmentation, Analaytics and Human Behavior” at Conversion Conference West 2012 in San Francisco, California. See the full agenda and read more about this session.

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