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The Net Takeaway: The Nagging Question: Internal Attribution

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The Nagging Question: Internal Attribution · 11/16/2009 11:26 PM, Analysis

Looking over my “Questions to Answer” list, one kept coming back to haunt me. I was attacking pieces of it, but I realized that it’s a huge gap in the web analytics world, and I want to get people thinking about it.

So much attention has been focused on Marketing Attribution: users see my marketing across multiple channels and so I have to combine them in a weighted fashion to “divvy out credit”, to decide what combination of marketing is most effective for me. Simple versions are the “Last Click” attribution we all know and love (well, put up with). More advanced models look a combination of metrics (a mix of First Click, Average, and Last Click attribution) or trying advanced models to weigh it out. Some just give tools (the Atlas Engagement Mapping model, for example) to let you choose your weights, but do not actually optimize the weights for you. And some folks out there say that the actual weights don’t matter, let a model optimize on your behalf and don’t worry about it (media mix companies come to mind).

Now, those are all interesting, but now that I am client-side, I realize that e-commerce sites have the exact same problem on the site. That is, I have a search function, I have product pages, I have a home page, and other functions and pages. How do I attribute an eventual conversion to these features? How do I decide where I need more investment, and what features/pages are doing fine?

In fact, I do want to give credit to marketing sources and provide ROI. But I also want to understand what on my site is contributing effectively to driving conversion, and what is merely assisting.

For all the attention to the marketing attribution problem, there appears to be little attention shown to the problem of Internal Site Attribution.

How do most tools address this? The classic “Multiple Whole Attribution” approach, which sucks. They simply give total basket/sales credit to every page which was in the session leading to the sale. No weighting, no adjustment, and when added all up, it sums to huge multiples of the actual money generated due to double (and quadruple and quintuple etc.) counting.

How might we solve this? One way is to simply take all the techniques tried for marketing attribution and apply them to your internal site experience (see lists above). Categorizing your pages helps. So, you could say that a user is exposed to the home page, some product category pages, a search results page or two, some product detail pages, and then some cross-sells via the cart on the way out. Just like a user is exposed to display and search ads, you can try to tease out the interactive impact of these various impressions.

I call to the various web analytic companies out there working so hard on the external marketing attribution problem: lots of competition in that space; lots of vacuum in internal site attribution. Marketing, esp. search marketing, is indeed important. After all, you spend money on that stuff, so you need to see it’s ROI. But if you are in e-commerce, I’d say you spend a pretty good amount of resources on the site itself in time and money, including content acquisition and editing, product merchandising and management. Shouldn’t you get some sense of the ROI for this? Should you invest in better on-site search, or simply lower your prices? Does that cool flash configurator help, or is it really the combination of users who use it AND visit your support forums?

Web analytic guys, time to help clear this one up.

And yes, for those following, this is indeed part of my What Web Analytics is Missing complaints, bridging “Understand my Site” and “Understand my Business”. This is an area ripe for the picking, one that any site manager who has to “defend the site” will be ecstatic to see solved. If you are looking to differentiate your analytic tool, this would be a good way to do it.

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