Guide

Why mobile attribution is a critical piece of the marketing puzzle

Introduction

Mobile attribution is one of the most important puzzle pieces for modern marketers who are connecting with consumers via mobile and app developers. Particularly, of course, in user acquisition for your mobile app.

As such, it’s one of the most important components in your growth stack for mobile marketing and app marketing.

In its simplest form app attribution, or mobile app tracking, is connecting an effect with a cause. The effect is an app install — an opportunity for a game maker, brand, or enterprise to connect with a customer. The cause is any of a number of different things: a mention in the news, a comment from a friend, a suggestion in an email, or a banner beside the road.

mobile attribution tells us how people find apps
Mobile attribution tells us how people find apps …

But most frequently in the context of mobile app attribution for high-growth mobile marketers, the cause is a digital ad, or a series of marketing campaigns.

(Which is why sometimes we call this advertising attribution.)

As such, you can think of mobile app attribution as ad attribution: attributing an install to the viewing and/or engaging with an ad from a specific ad network or media source. And it’s mobile measurement: analytics for determining what app marketing works, and what app marketing does not.

This is not a simple process, as Mixpanel mentions. But it does help you grow faster … and can save mobile publishers millions of dollars.

If you’re a mobile app publisher, you want to know when people download your apps. You also want to know why they downloaded your apps, and how they came to install your game or utility or store. You’ll get most of the when from Google Play or the App Store. But the why and the how are perhaps even more important for you, because when you understand users’ or customers’ motivations and their journeys, you can grow faster. (We’ll talk about multi-touch attribution — one interesting attribution model — a little later.)

Why can you grow faster?

Because you can optimize your apps, your messaging, and your marketing to attract more users and more customers based on what you learned.

And that’s one of the key reasons why you would install the Singular SDK in your app. Mobile attribution, or mobile conversion tracking, connects effects with causes, and that helps you create more effects … more app installs.

And that’s exactly what you want your marketing analytics tools to accomplish.

How mobile attribution works

When a potential user or customer taps on your app install ad on a mobile device (or a website) and installs your app, Singular sees it. You ran a series of ad campaigns on an ad network, and your mobile ads worked.

The connection between an app install and and ad click might happen via a referral ID, an identifier match (think IDFA, or a Google Play Advertising ID), or, if those fail, via device fingerprinting. For self-attributing ad networks like Facebook or Snapchat, we query their servers for attribution data. But whichever way, mobile advertising tracking connects an ad engagement with a conversion: an app install.

Since we track ad views and engagements, if the initial clickthrough does convert into an app install, we can also measure the results beyond the install — such as post install events like registration, account creation, activity, achievements, or purchases.

Essentially, that’s mobile app attribution in a nutshell.

But for the smartest marketers, there’s more to the story. It’s not just about big aggregate numbers on marketing campaigns, or which ad networks drove the most installs. You need far deeper analytics to out-grow your competition. It’s not just about attribution tools or even traditional marketing attribution. There are far more data points involved.

But for the smartest marketers, there’s more to the story. (And, some people are getting it absolutely wrong.)

Let’s go beyond the basics: it’s not just app attribution

Basic mobile app attribution solutions were meant to answer one simple question: where did my mobile app installs originate from?

But today’s scientific marketers have so many more questions:

  • What are my top and worst performing creatives?
  • What was my best bidding strategy?
  • What is the actual return on each conversion?
  • What are my most ROI-positive media sources?

It’s impossible to get all of this from a legacy attribution provider. Answering these questions requires complex integration of marketing campaigns, their data (remember: causes), and conversion analytics data (remember: effects) at the core of your mobile marketing growth stack.

Plus, you need your attribution tools to be customized to your business and its unique KPIs. And you want the data your mobile app marketing growth suite collects to integrate easily with your BI systems and backend tools.

In short, you need a mobile attribution solution that can:

  • Track and measure your unique KPIs across acquisition and re-engagement
  • Account for cross platform interactions and attribute against non-mobile engagements
  • Create deep links and deferred deep links that provide seamless user experiences and accurate tracking
  • Accurately aggregate cost and data from marketing campaigns across sources and channels
  • Automatically combine attribution data with marketing campaign data to uncover accurate, granular, timely, and actionable insights that drive growth
  • Enable easy analysis of which ad networks, campaigns, bidding strategies, and creatives drive the best or worst return on investment (ROI)
  • Deterministically and proactively fight mobile ad fraud

Clearly, mobile attribution is critical data for modern marketers. Just as clearly, vanilla mobile attribution is insufficient.

Intelligent mobile attribution that looks forward, not backward

Mobile attribution tells you where an install came from. That’s great. It’s data you need.

But to take advantage of that data about the past to generate more growth in the future, you also want to know what creative worked really well. Which campaign it came from. What publisher the ad was on. And, of course, you want to know if you’re ROI-positive on the new user you gained, and you also want to be able to view the install in the context of all of your advertising costs.

(Plus, maybe, even what bid strategy got you the ad view in the first place which converted into a mobile app install.)

That can only happen when your attribution provider is integrated with your media sources not only on an attribution level, but also on a marketing level. Meaning that your attribution tracking solution doesn’t just see random effects pop up in various places … it sees the causes too.

And, naturally, connects them so you learn more. When you learn more, you grow faster.

That’s mobile attribution that looks forward. And that’s why Singular calls its entire solution a marketing intelligence platform.

Mobile attribution also needs to be customizable

Netflix needs to optimize for TV subscribers. Angry Birds, other the other hand, might need to optimize for in-app purchases. And many hyper-casual games need to optimize for ad views and engagements.

The point: your mobile attribution needs to adapt to you and your app.

Not shockingly: one size doesn’t fit all.

That means your mobile advertising attribution solution needs to have custom dimensions so you can organize your analytics by geo, channel, date, UA manager, or whatever dimension your heart desires.

Singular provides up to 70 different rules per custom dimension … all you need to do is use simple AND and OR operators. (Python experience not required!)

Customizability doesn’t end with being able to slice and dice your data with custom dimensions. It also includes custom metrics. Calculated metrics that conform to your app’s KPIs, for instance. For example: cost per registration, or activation.

Maybe you need to map multiple events to a single metric. Maybe you want to have a single name for similar concepts across your entire app portfolio, like first purchase or a user quality indicator. Or maybe you just wanted a calculated custom metric, like Cost per First Purchase.

That’s why Singular lets you customize reporting not just by raw metrics but by calculated metrics that you can set up once and use forever, saving your BI team tens of hours weekly.

And, of course, you need custom events, like “completed level 5” or “10-days-in-app-streak” so you can report on events that matter in one app — or across your entire portfolio.

Singular lets you define custom events which appear in your query options, allowing you to see cost and performance data for those custom events and slice and dice by dimensions that matter to you. Events that are auto-tracked and do not require custom event creation include installs, session starts, revenue events, uninstalls, and reinstalls.

That sounds intelligent, right? It’s all part of app attribution … when paired with marketing intelligence software.

Attribution tracking also needs to connect cross-platform journeys

Again, mobile attribution is core to modern marketing success. But it needs to be connected to the complex and varied journeys your users — and customers — take.

Most often, they don’t just show up in the App Store or Google Play and randomly download your iOS or Android app.

Instead users are seeing and engaging with your ads and campaigns across multiple platforms thanks to multiple ad campaigns you’ve set up with mobile measurement. Can you track every interaction — and platform transition — to the same customer? And, are you able to measure how much revenue your web ad spend has generated on mobile?

You have millions of people viewing and clicking multiple ads, interacting with emails and other non-paid campaigns, using your apps organically, and making purchases across desktop, mobile web, and mobile apps. This is even more challenging when you add in retargeting campaigns and organic marketing channels.

Singular attribution can help you connect mobile revenue to web spend. Your attribution should show you what every dollar on every platform is driving, and how every campaign is involved in the final outcome. This is what cross-device attribution should solve.

“Being able to measure marketing performance and ROI across platforms and devices with Singular is valuable for Lyft. This ability enables us to intelligently optimize our marketing efforts and grow our business.”

— Sherry Lin, Growth Marketing Operations Lead, Lyft

You may also work with an MTA vendor or have built multi-touch attribution in-house. Whatever the situation, multi-touch attribution models need all touchpoints, and Singular can provide them.

That’s just part of mobile attribution tracking that’s part of a larger marketing intelligence package.

 

 

Again, mobile attribution is core to modern marketing success. But it needs to be connected to the complex and varied journeys your users — and customers — take.

Users are seeing and engaging with your ads and campaigns across multiple platforms. Can you track every interaction — and platform transition — to the same customer? And, are you able to measure how much revenue your web ad spend has generated on mobile?

You have millions of people viewing and clicking multiple ads, interacting with emails and other non-paid campaigns, using your apps organically, and making purchases across desktop, mobile web, and mobile apps. This is even more challenging when you add in retargeting campaigns.

Singular attribution can help you connect mobile revenue to web spend. Your attribution should show you what every dollar on every platform is driving, and how every campaign is involved in the final outcome. This is what cross-device attribution should solve.

Being able to measure marketing performance and ROI across platforms and devices with Singular is valuable for Lyft. This ability enables us to intelligently optimize our marketing efforts and grow our business.

— Sherry Lin, Growth Marketing Operations Lead, Lyft

You may also work with an MTA vendor or have built multi-touch attribution in-house. Whatever the situation, MTA models need all touchpoints, and Singular can provide them.

That’s just part of mobile attribution tracking that’s part of a larger marketing intelligence package.

Attribution models

There are a LOT of attribution models, and not all of them are relevant to mobile marketing analytics. They’re also among the most controversial things in digital marketing. But if you have a favorite attribution model, it’s likely supported by Singular.

 

  • First click attribution
    First click means exactly what it says: the first click (or touch) gets credit for the attribution.
  • Last click attribution
    Last click is pretty simple again: the last click or touch gets credit for the conversion.
  • Multi-touch attribution
    Marketers assign some value to all the touches a brand has with a consumer or user before conversion. Note that multi-touch attribution (MTA) is extremely helpful in seeing the entire user journey, and that there are multiple varieties of multi-touch attribution, including the next two.
  • Linear attribution
    In linear attribution, marketers assign equal value to every touch a brand has with a consumer or user (no matter how big or small).
  • Time-decay attribution
    Here, marketers assign increasing value to recent touches and decreasing value to earlier touches.

Whichever your favorite attribution model for user acquisition mobile app marketing campaigns, you can use a variety of attribution models with Singular, either supported directly in the Singular interface, or achieved with an integration with a multi-touch attribution vendor, or built in-house in your BI and analytics systems.

The standard in mobile measurement tools is to be conservative with the number of data points you analyze. Last-touch is most common, but you can typically see “assists” along the way from your mobile ad campaigns, and those help you understand a more holistic picture.

There’s more (much more)

There’s a lot more that we could talk about: audiences, data unification, single source of truth, user roles for safe and appropriate access to your data, dual integration of your marketing campaign data with your conversion (install) data …

But we think you get the point.

Learn more about the best mobile attribution platform on the planet: one that’s part of the mobile marketing suite you need:

  1. Get all the details on Singular’s suite
  2. Get a demo of Singular’s solution
  3. More questions? Here are 27 … answered