August 15th, 2019

Mobile Ad Attribution – What Mobile Marketers Need To Know In 2019

what is mobile ad attribution


In 2019, mobile is an essential advertising channel for marketers across every industry.

Mobile devices are becoming more ubiquitous than desktop computers and, in the US, mobile has surpassed TV as the medium with the most daily time-spent. Apps account for over 90% of internet time on smartphones, making them an ideal marketing environment—specifically for primarily digital businesses like mobile games or e-commerce brands. To run mobile advertising effectively, however, marketers must understand the complexities of mobile attribution.

What is mobile ad attribution?

Attribution is the practice of measuring and analyzing the impact of an advertisement in driving user engagement. When applied to app ecosystems, mobile ad attribution allows marketers to better understand — and optimize — a user’s journey across the entire conversion funnel.

Mobile ad attribution is distinct from other digital formats, particularly web-based attribution. When users engage with ads from a web browser, marketers can use cookies, image pixel tags, beacons, and other features to measure engagement. Since mobile apps have a different infrastructure, they require the use of other attribution techniques that apply specifically to in-app ecosystems. These are typically powered using SDKs integrated within the app itself.

Unfortunately, on mobile, attribution can sometimes be difficult to accurately track—there are a number of competing models and few industry standards around which data points ought to receive credit. What’s more, the issue of widespread fraud adds another layer of ambiguity and uncertainty. Mobile users might view the same ad creative across multiple apps before ultimately converting. If the user only partially engages with the first placement, how do you attribute ad spend? Should the first or final click be given full credit for the conversion? Or should all placements receive equal credit?

Mobile ad attribution is constantly evolving, but let’s start by taking a closer look as it exists in 2019.

Mobile ad attribution windows

Once a pre-defined conversion has been achieved, mobile marketers must analyze the engagements that led the user through the funnel. But if a user watched a video a year prior to making a purchase, should that conversion be attributed to that campaign? Most attribution providers say no, and exclude data points that fall outside of a certain timeframe — this is called an attribution window.

Often, an advertiser and publisher will agree on a reasonable attribution window, such as a seven day period. Then if a user converts within that window, the publisher will receive credit and payment for that conversion. However, if a marketer is running a robust mobile campaign with multiple placements over many networks, a user may see several different ads from different sources. This is where things get complicated — advertisers and publishers must agree on a mobile attribution model so they may analyze more complex interactions.

The five models of mobile ad attribution

All mobile ad attribution models can be separated into two distinct types: Single-touch and multi-touch.

Single-touch attribution

Single-touch models attribute conversions solely on a single click. As such, two models apply to these circumstances:

  • Last click: Conversions are attributed to the last click made by a user. Of all attribution models, “last click” is perhaps the most common.
  • First click: Conversions are attributed to the first click made by a user. This model is rarely applied but it can be useful for brand awareness campaigns.

Multi-touch attribution

What happens if you want to account for multiple engagements with an ad placement? Multi-touch models measure these clicks and grant a percentage of attribution to each event. Multi-touch attribution analysis (MTA) is more complex, but it can result in an average of 30% increase in ROI when implemented correctly. Multi-touch attribution models include:

  • Linear: Attributions are divided equally among every single clicked ad placement, from the first engagement to the final conversion.
  • Position-based: Attributions are divided between the first and last clicks. Any clicks or engagements between these points are ignored.
  • Time Decay: The final click gains the highest attribution share, while each preceding click gains a percentage of attribution based on how close the event is to the final click.

Mobile attribution and the conversion funnel

Mobile ad attribution works by measuring user engagement at key points of the conversion funnel. While single-touch attribution measures a single conversion event, multi-touch attribution can measure multiple events leading to conversion and prioritize their importance.

Here is an outline of the typical mobile attribution conversion funnel:

  1. User clicks on an ad: The entire process begins when a user first engages with an advertisement. Web-based attribution typically only measures conversion rates using these clicks, but mobile attribution follows events further along in the conversion funnel.
  2. Advertising network saves user ID: The hosting advertising network saves the user ID to track additional clicks and other events. Most mobile marketers use the device ID for this purpose, but other ID solutions — such as an Apple ID or Google Play account — may be used in some cases.
  3. User installs and/or opens app: The user installs the app and opens it. These two events tend to be the most common indications of a conversion.
  4. Attribution SDK requests user ID from the network: Once the conversion event has taken place, an integrated attribution SDK requests the user ID from the advertising network.
  5. Each event is saved and transmitted to marketers: If using single-touch attribution, the attribution tool saves a record of the specific conversion event. If using multi-touch attribution, all potential events within the conversion window are saved. This information is then made available to marketers to calculate revenue and optimize their campaigns.

Mobile ad attribution and privacy regulations

Data sharing for attribution purposes is an essential practice for mobile marketers, but it does raise privacy concerns. New consumer data legislation, including GDPR and California’s Consumer Privacy Act, mandates that conscientious data management is practiced across the industry.

Fortunately, mobile marketers have found ways to maintain effective attribution models while supporting consumer data privacy. The Mobile Marketing Association recently published a guide detailing suggestions for updating existing attribution models. The following approaches are recommended:

  1. Work with publishers who offer a “clean room” approach. In this model, marketing and publisher data are merged before extracting multi-touch attribution points for analysis.
  2. Use attribution providers who use data tagging systems approved by major platforms.
  3. Implement secure ad servers with unrestricted IDs.
  4. Create new models that aggregate findings from disparate sources and provide a high-level media impact summary.

These recommendations will ensure compliance with regulations and help brands foster trust with customers.

The mobile ecosystem is always changing, and attribution frequently changes along with it. That’s why partners like Tapjoy are essential. As an advertising network, we are committed to timely and accurate reporting. We also uphold stringent anti-fraud measures — ensuring your attributed conversions are always accurate.

For more information on how Tapjoy can help you navigate the world of mobile advertising, contact one of our talented growth consultants today!


GAME ON: Tapjoy Offerwall Sees eCPMs of $1500+

Mobile Game Ads Streaming Brands

How Streaming Brands Can Win With Mobile Game Advertising


Tapjoy Is Now Available on DV360!