Attribution: Part 1 – why it sucks to be President

Ian Lurie

The worst job in the world? President. I’d rather be a telemarketer (been there, done that).

It’s not the assassination threats, or the constant hounding by the press, or the fact that you can blow up the earth about 40 times over.

It’s about attribution. You get ‘credit’ for things that go wrong, and no credit for things you do right:

presidential career suckage over time

Which, as it turns out, is also why being an internet marketer can really suck at times, too:

internet marketing career suckage over time

It’s just about impossible to accurately determine attribution. Attribution means giving credit where credit is due: The economy improves – why? Someone just made a purchase on your web site – was it because of SEO, or PPC, or something else?

First click, last click or something in between? The challenge of attribution.

You can track conversions using analytics software. Problem is, most analytics programs attribute conversions to either the first click or the last click.
Here’s an example: I’m shopping for a good indoor cycling trainer.

  1. I search for ‘wattage cycling trainer’ on Google. I click through to Al’s Bike Barn.
  2. Then I search for ‘tacx flow trainer’ and click on a paid ad on Bing. I land on Al’s Bike Barn again.
  3. Then I search for Al’s Bike Barn and go directly to their site from an organic search result.
  4. Wait, I’m not done. I’m ready to buy, and I type Al’s web address right into my browser. I go and make a purchase.

If Al’s web analytics software uses first click attribution, then the Google search on ‘wattage cycling trainer’ gets the credit. Woo hoo! The SEO’s are heroes.

On the other hand, if Al’s web analytics software uses last click attribution (a standard Google Analytics configuration), then it looks like I saw an ad offline or some such. The SEO’s get no credit.

That’s not the biggest problem, though. The Bing paid ad gets zero credit regardless. Same with the branded search on Al’s company name.

Somehow, marketers have to figure out how to give credit to every channel – keyword, ad, whatever – that sent me to Al’s site. Every one of those channels played a part in the sale.

That’s the true challenge of attribution. Whether you’re a marketer or the President.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about a few possible solutions.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Ian, this is an advance topic that I’ve not yet begin to implement or even consider, so I’m interested to learn more. Unfortunately I’m all the way here in Malaysia so I won’t be attending your talk. I’m hoping you’ll share your slides 🙂

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