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Beyond Last-Click Attribution

Act on attribution


This AdWords attribution guide helps you to assign the appropriate value to your keywords and then take specific actions in AdWords with an eye toward meeting your customers’ needs and driving more sales. Choosing the right attribution model is only the first step in the process.

Bid to your chosen model

Once you’ve updated your attribution model, your conversions columns will update with stats that reflect your choice. From there it’s easy - optimize your bids to account for the numbers in those conversion columns. By updating your conversion reporting, you make it easy on yourself to gauge performance and set the appropriate bids.

Whether you’re changing bids manually or using an AdWords bid strategy, the process will remain the same. As long as your conversions column is capturing behavior the way that you want, your bids will be aligned with your ultimate goals for AdWords. The recommended approach is to adopt an AdWords automated bidding strategy, like Target CPA or Target ROAS.

As you evaluate performance under a new model, you don’t want to review results on a campaign-by-campaign basis. Your keyword- and account-level performance numbers are supposed to change, as you’re changing the way you assign credit. You should be looking for whether or not your entire account is growing.

Test your new attribution model

By now you’ve explored the models and decided what you want to test. Before you commit to any model, though, you want to test your whether the results match your expectations.

As you prepare to test, identify your time lag, which we talked about earlier. It’s the number of days between first click and conversion. It’ll tell you which time periods to omit when analyzing the results of your test. The key to proper testing is minimizing the amount of changes you make. Patience is key while you gather insights.

Testing the incrementality of an attribution model change. Remember - you’re updating the way you count conversions, so these steps will need to be followed across all campaigns that are using the conversion you’re updating:

  1. Change your conversion type to your new attribution model. In your AdWords performance reports, add the “Current model” columns which match the new model you selected. This will show you your historical data as if you had been using that new model all along.
  2. Establish a control period. Examine ~2 weeks of historical performance with the new attribution model, excluding your time lag from any analysis.
  3. Update your bids based on your new attribution model. This is a crucial step in testing and evaluating your new model's performance. For your test period, you want to set a target CPA which is equal to the CPA you saw in the control period according to the new model. Otherwise, you risk conflating the attribution model change with bid changes, making it difficult to evaluate the results.
  4. Establish a test period after your updated campaigns have run for 1-2 weeks with minimal changes. This 1-2 week period is to allow your account to adjust to the new model.  Once performance stabilizes, let the new attribution model run for ~2 more weeks.  
  5. Measure your tests based on both volume and efficiency for all of your campaigns affected by the change.  Once your test period ends, wait for your time lag to elapse.  This will give you the complete picture of your conversions.  Then, compare your test period to your control period. You do this by comparing 2 columns for the test period vs. the control period: the “Conversions (Current model)” and “Cost-per-conversion (Current model)” columns.

If you’re satisfied with the performance of your new attribution model, you can keep it running. When comparing the test period with the control period, more conversions at a similar or lower CPA is the result you’re aiming for. If you’re seeing those results, you can consider updating other conversion types to your new attribution model as well. If you’re not satisfied with the performance of your new attribution model, you can revert to a previous attribution model or try out a new one entirely.

Change ads and landing pages to align with a customer’s place in the click path

Once you identify a keyword’s place in the user journey, you can modify your ads and landing pages to start a more mutually beneficial conversation. A set of keywords that tends to be early in the click path could benefit from a less direct landing page. You could think of these types of interactions as inspirational landing pages instead of the typical transactional pages.

For example, someone searching for “hotels Tuscany” might not be ready to book on her first click. After verifying that a particular query tends to be earlier in the click path in your Attribution reports, you can start to speak to her differently, both on the results page and on your site itself. Establish yourself as a trustworthy reference as the first step in a conversion.

Top-Rated Tuscan Hotels
Ad www.example.com
Explore Tuscany’s Top Ten Hotels.
From Luxurious to Quirky and Fun.

Re-examine early influence keywords based on your new attribution model

As many advertisers implement new attribution models, they might notice something strange: things aren’t changing that much. There are obviously places to make improvements and get more success, but there’s far less change than anticipated.

In instances like this, it’s important to re-evaluate early influence keywords you may have cut from your account. As you investigate a new way of attributing conversions in AdWords, you should also plan on testing (or re-testing) early influence keywords. Experiment with keywords that seemed too broad in the past - you might find out that they can be very good at starting a conversation, but not so good at finishing it.

Now that you’re changing the way you define success, new keywords could have a better chance at being successful. The performance of those keywords won’t be different than it was in the past. What will be different, though, is how you define and measure success. You should see their new, and true, value.


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