Kabeer Chaudhary
Apr 24, 2017

The last-click conundrum

Millions of dollars in spending on app advertising depends on last-click attribution, a model which has issues. But should it be finessed or replaced?

Kabeer Chaudhary
Kabeer Chaudhary

Attribution in marketing is the study of determining the efficiency of a media channel. The study becomes even more fascinating when it comes to mobile app advertising, where it’s possible to track and measure everything. Well, almost.

Most attribution systems in mobile-app marketing use a last-click-based attribution model. This means that the ‘end action’ taken by a user is attributed to the channel that delivered the ‘last click’. And rightly so, for a click is synonymous with intent. A click is a symbol of a user taking the first move toward a product. The click is the last breadcrumb and hence is probably the most important aspect of measurement in digital advertising.

Millions of dollars of budgets in app advertising are determined based on the source that generated the last click. If you’re a digital native, you can be sure that there are hundreds if not thousands of publishers fighting amongst each other to get your last click before you install an app or purchase something online. For that reason, it’s compulsory that the measurement and definition of a click be standard and accurate for precise attribution, which is unfortunately not the case at the moment. Below are a few factors that make click measurement non-standard for all publishers:

1. Click is URL based

For all third-party attribution platforms, a click means a click on the URL. One key problem with URL-based measurement is that it does not care what creative the URL is embedded upon. Thus, there is no way for an advertiser to be able to guarantee that the publisher got you a click from a legitimate creative that was supposed to be clicked upon. As long as the destination URL was clicked upon, the attribution platform will count a click.

In a fair world, there should not be any problem with this. But sadly, in the world we live in, this gives fraudsters an open palette to show their creativity, stuffing attribution platforms with clicks from everywhere, leading to misattribution. The combination of a URL and a creative tag based measurement is probably the solution that the industry demands.

2. Asynchronous clicks

App attribution platforms have server-to-server integrations with some ad networks and publishers. This means that these ad networks are able to let the attribution platforms know when they got the click instead of the attribution platform counting it themselves. Well, the legitimate case that ad networks have made for being able to do this is that when the inventory they buy is rebrokered, it leads to multiple redirects, which in turn leads to a lag time between the click and landing page.

Now, this in itself is debatable. However, the problem arises when publishers send millions of false clicks through these server integrations to be able to win the ‘last click’. This along with the URL-based click measurement is a major reason for advertisers seeing an exaggerated amount of clicks from publishers.

Possible solutions to this are for attribution platforms to either let go of the concept of ‘asynchronous clicks’ or at least give advertisers the freedom to choose whether they want ad networks to send them clicks asynchronously. This might not kill but will at least grievously injure two evil birds with the same stone: rebrokering and click spamming.

3. The walled gardens

Beyond the purview of attribution platforms lie the majestic walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter and Google. They are self-attributing networks. They count clicks, measure actions and attribute data themselves.

The main reason that they cite for this is ‘privacy of their data’ which makes a legitimate case for publishers their size who are concerned about how their data might get misused. In a perfect world no single party, however important they might be, should be allowed to mark their own homework. However, for us to be able to reach there, third-party attribution needs to go through a couple of rounds of evolution in terms of fraud prevention, ad serving and being truly third-party.

Beyond last-click?

There is a valid argument in the industry that questions the finesse of the last-click attribution model and recommends wider usage of other more sophisticated models, such as multi-touch and cross-channel attribution. Theoretically, irrespective of what model an advertiser uses, it would still get down to the click or impression or both to be measured accurately. In my opinion, true and unbiased third-party attribution will play a very important role in mobile app marketing. Measurement of clicks has to be accurate and standard across the board and depending on how quickly we do that will determine how quickly we evolve. This combined along with educating clients and passing them all the ammunition required to understand and interpret data from all sources and evaluate their efficiency.

Kabeer Chaudhary is APAC regional director with M&C Saatchi Mobile

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