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Mobile Attribution 101

Published: January 15, 2019

Author: Shannon Fishman

Attribution for any marketing campaign is the act of defining the media source of a tracked campaign event. For mobile attribution, this means determining which mobile partner brought in the desired app install and/or in-app event. While there are different types of attribution models, the most common mobile attribution model is last click.
Last-click attribution models, a form of click-through attribution, award installs and in-app events to the mobile partner with the last recorded click preceding the user downloading the app, as recorded by the mobile measurement partner (MMP1). There is also view-through attribution, which awards attribution of a mobile install or in-app event based on the last recorded ad impression. (Click here for more explanation about view-through from Kochava, a leading MMP we use for some of our mobile campaigns.)
1: A Mobile Measurement Partner is the analytics center and campaign management platform used for in-app mobile campaigns

What Is an Attribution Window?

An attribution window, also called a lookback window, is the amount of time the MMP is allowed to look back for a click or impression to determine who drove an install or event. If a user downloads the app outside of the lookback window, it will be assigned as organic. For example, say we’re using an attribution window of 30 days and a last click model; if a user’s conversion happens on day 31 after the attributed click for the install, the credit will be set as organic. However, if the conversion happens on day 29, the responsible media source for the attributed click receives the attribution credit.

Determining Your Attribution Window

Establishing a campaign’s attribution window is an important first step in ensuring you set up a mobile campaign for success. It is crucial that you use your business goals and knowledge of the breadth of your paid marketing efforts to set the appropriate lookback windows for any mobile campaigns you are running.
Because the shorter you make the attribution window, the fewer in-app events will be awarded to the correct mobile partner, it’s important to ensure that your attribution windows accurately reflect how your users engage with your ads, download your app, and complete the desired KPIs.
You must determine separate lookback windows for click-through and view-through attribution, if you’re using both models. Click-through attribution should always be valued higher, as the user is actually showing intent by clicking on the ad. Because of this, click-through attribution should have a longer lookback window enabled then view-through.
You can always alter your attribution window length in your MMP, but I recommend having at least two months of performance data before making a change. That way, you have enough data to strongly support expanding or shrinking your lookback windows.

The Nuts and Bolts of Mobile Attribution

Mobile attribution does not operate by using pixels or cookie tracking – instead, all data is collected and organized by individual mobile devices. MMPs can use two main techniques to match users to their devices:

  1. Device Matching: This uses the actual IDFA or GAID passed back to the MMP from the App Store.
  2. Fingerprinting: This is based on public info, such as user’s IP address, OS version, or device name, and also includes the MMP’s unique identifier, which is a unique value passed back from the MMP to differentiate devices.

Device matching is always preferred as it is most accurate, but when that data is not available fingerprinting is another secondary method of attribution matching.

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