What is attribution and what does it mean in affiliate marketing?

March 25, 2024

In the online world, attribution is about keeping track of which content drives traffic to a website or contributes to the sale of a product.

As a reminder, brands and retailers use an affiliate program to incentivize advocates and influencers to create online content that spreads the word about their products and leads to sales. The program does this by rewarding content creators with a small commission when a sale is made, typically anywhere from 5-30% of the sale price.

Attribution is the technical book keeping that determines what content sends a person to a website and when to pay out a commission to an advocate based on a conversion (i.e. a sale).

Attribution is tracked via unique advocate links (and codes)

Typically an affiliate program will use a special link that includes a code (a ‘cookie’ in web browser parlance) that is placed on a customer’s web browser when they visit a product link. This code is unique to the advocate who posted the original content. When a sale is made, the checkout process sees that this advocate code is present and attributes that conversion (i.e. sale) to the advocate. 

Attribution happens within a certain time window

In order for an advocate to receive credit for a sale, the sale has to happen within a certain time window set by a retailer. These windows are typically 30 days, but can be as short as 7 days or less depending on the program.

First-click, last-click and everything in-between

Tracking who should get credit is straightforward most of the time. But what about when a customer comes from multiple social media or blog posts about a product? Who gets the credit? Different programs have different philosophies. Some popular approaches are:

  • Last-Click Attribution: Assigns 100% credit to the last touchpoint before the sale.
  • First-Click Attribution: Gives all the credit to the first interaction the customer had with the brand.
  • Linear Attribution: Distributes the credit evenly across all the touchpoints in the conversion path.
  • Time Decay Attribution: Allocates more credit to the touchpoints closer to the time of conversion.
  • Position-Based Attribution: Typically assigns 40% credit each to the first and last touchpoint, distributing the remaining 20% across other interactions.

Audenticity tries to keep attribution simple

Whew that gets complicated. At Audenticity, we try to keep things simple:

1) We track attribution via advocate links and cookies placed on the browser

2) Each retailer sets their time window, which is typically 30 days but can be less

3) We credit the last touchpoint before a sale in most cases. The exception is when a product is added to a shopping cart. In this case, the touch point that led to the product being added to the shopping cart gets precedence over the last touchpoint.

At the end of the day, the important thing is that brands can amplify word-of-mouth and content creators are properly credited for their content. A good affiliate program takes care of these attribution technical details so that both brands and advocates can focus on what they do best - creating great products and content.

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