Ecommerce merchants have always wanted to know, “Where are my customers coming from?” The more you know about your customers, the better you can connect your products to their needs and purchasing patterns.
That’s where attribution comes in to help piece together the puzzle of your customer journey.
Let’s cover the need-to-know basics of attribution, including:
- What is attribution?
- How do Northbeam, Rockerbox and Triple Whale tracking differ?
- Does Peel offer attribution?
- What are the types of attribution models?
- Is attribution important for ecommerce brands?
What is attribution?
Attribution is a measurement technique that collects and analyzes the marketing and organic sources leading to a key event such as a purchase. Ecommerce attribution is about tracking every ads viewed, clicked or tapped, every referrer of website visits and their associated campaigns or keywords, and combining them all using attribution models giving different weight to each of them based on when they occurred. Ultimately, attribution is about answering the question of “What marketing channels help deliver the best customers?”
What are channels, source, medium, campaigns and keywords?
Each individual attribution touchpoint, across a brand’s various channels, is a point of interest to discover what drove customers to convert. When analyzing digital attribution, as opposed to Connected TV (CTV), over-the-top (OTT) video services, out of home (OOH) billboards, direct-mail, etc., you can measure every interaction your visitors have with your brands and label them to analyze them more easily. Without labels, you’d be facing millions of different sources to analyze.
The top-level groupings are channels, made popular by Google Analytics, which defines them as Traffic Channels:
- Organic Search
- Paid Search
- Facebook Ads
- Google Ads
They’re easy to use because there are few of them. Out of the box, Google will label “Organic Social” and “Paid Social” as only two channels, but most modern platforms will take the time to differentiate between Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other social platforms since each is so different from the others.
Channels are identified using a number of criteria, and many companies like to specify their own version. They’re usually a mix of UTM parameters added to link urls, source of the link, also known as the referrer, and sometimes the landing page itself.
Solving the attribution picture is essential for ecommerce brands. Understanding what channels are performing well and yielding higher ROI is critical for optimizing marketing spend and channel strategy. If we know where we can find our customers, we would put all our efforts and advertising budget there - right?!
Marketers attach UTM codes, special snippets at the end of links from their content to their site, that track customer touchpoints leading to their purchase. This facilitates attribution as clicks on those links are trackable conversion events in the customer purchasing path.
Not all attribution channels can be identified through clicks. Some, like Podcast and radio advertising often rely on landing pages or discount codes input at the time of checkout, or post-purchase surveys such as the ones managed via KnoCommerce and Fairing.
What is fingerprinting and why does it matter so much?
Attribution products offer three key services bundled into one: tracking touchpoints, identifying visitors across multiple touchpoints, and reporting. The identification of visitors is the key that makes it all possible. If all sessions to your website looked like unique visitors, you’d only be able to do last-click attribution on purchases, meaning you would only know where each buying session appeared to come from without considering all the previous times a visitor came by.
If you are able to take a fingerprint of the browser, location, IP address, or at the very least use a cookie to track your visitors, you can start to connect the dots between prior visits, and you can now do multi-touch attribution to explain all the steps it took for a visitor to make a purchase.
What is the difference between pixel and server-side pixel?
With new privacy technologies and regulation, cookie tracking is on the decline. That’s why new providers rely on fingerprinting, also referred to as “service-side pixels.” A tracking “pixel” was traditionally a one-by-one pixel image, a dot, you would add to your website. When loading the image, your browser calls the tracking server, sharing enough information to tag you with a cookie that can be used later to identify you.
Fingerprints on more advanced modeling
When comparing impressions on Instagram with purchases on your store, the same technology can be used, even if it’s a little less accurate. For platforms with deep access to Facebook, it’s possible to track visitors who saw an ad by computing a similar fingerprint and then compare it to the fingerprint of visitors and buyers on the site.
This is where much of the innovation in attribution and in privacy is taking place today.
How do Northbeam, Rockerbox and Triple Whale tracking differ when it comes to Shopify attribution?
Ecommerce and specifically Shopify attribution have seen a booming number of solutions in the past couple of years since platform attribution from Facebook and Google have become much less reliable due to the recent privacy updates starting with iOS 14.5 privacy settings.
At Peel, we’re big fans of many of these tracking solutions because they offer richer data to work with, and a question we often get is how they differ. We’ll give you an overview!
Northbeam was founded in 2019 and focuses on ecommerce, with a strong presence on the Shopify ecosystem. They’re often seen as a step up from “pixel attribution” because they've built their own advanced modeling relying on platform integrations with Facebook/Meta, LinkedIn, Google, TikTok and others to fingerprint all visitors and all ads impressions.
Rockerbox was founded in 2013 but launched an attribution product in 2018. They've worked with companies in many industries forcing them to develop their own modeling and fingerprinting technology that can be applied to OTT, CTV, OOH and other offline campaigns. They’ve now built a self-service Shopify app focused on digital platforms, but they have expertise in many more channels.
Triple Whale was founded in 2021 and focuses on solutions that mattered for Shopify merchants. The core of their focus is in the reporting, and their pixel technology is provided by fingerprint.com. Given their thriving community, they're known to combine zero party survey data, as well as platform data from Attentive and Klaviyo to enrich the visits.
Northbeam vs Rockerbox
The two solutions are incredibly robust and while we can’t analyze their proprietary technology, we can note that Northbeam has focused more on Shopify brands offering immediate upgrade while Rockerbox works with any platform and may be more suitable for offline advertisers.
Both platforms come at a higher price due to the technology they serve, and we recommend meeting both before making a decision.
Rockerbox vs Northbeam vs Triple Whale
Both Rockerbox and Northbeam have built a very advanced tracking solution of their own, allowing them to deploy better modeling on the way they identify or fingerprint users, deduplicate them across sessions and devices.
On the other hand, Triple Whale is a perfect fit for new Shopify brands not willing to invest too much and are content with click tracking.
In all cases, it’s important to check with the platforms and identify which ones offer the best value on the advertising platforms you rely on at your stage.
Does Peel offer attribution?
Peel was built as a new generation Business Intelligence platform for users not to have to maintain a full data stack. As such, Peel never collects any information directly and relies on all of its partner integration or direct database connections and provides analysis, insights, and reporting.
Peel does have a lot of attribution reporting baked in all of its metrics as well as its new suite of attribution metrics such as the payback period cohort grid or multi-touch attribution using various models.
Out of the box, Peel relies on Shopify’s native data tracking of all user visits to access Referrer and UTM data. Peel loads customer attribution data, including visits for each order from a customer, from Shopify, alongside dozens of other data models.
Shopify shares what they call CustomerJourney, and it details referrals and UTM parameters. Peel then defined their own Channel mapping (including paid and organic channels) with 19 platforms, so you can get the most accurate tracking of channel performance, without needing to set up the channel mapping yourself like required in Google Analytics or other data platforms.
If you work with other platforms, such as Northbeam, Rockerbox and Triple Whale and wish to bring that data in, please contact us!
What are the types of attribution models?
There are 3 main types of attribution used in ecommerce, though subcategories and variations of these exist, we’ll cover the common, overarching attribution types here:
First Touch Attribution
First Touch attribution takes into account only the first touchpoint in a customer’s journey and assigns the credit for that conversion entirely to that first channel.
For example, if a customer initially clicks on a Google Ad, navigates the site, checks out the brand on social media, gets a retargeting ad later down the road, and finally converts after directly typing in the brand’s site, the credit for that conversion would go to the initial Google Ad.
This technique helps brands optimize the top of their funnel, that initial point of contact which helps them acquire a new customer. It’s a great measuring stick for what channel/content stands out to a brand new customers and piques their interest in the product.
For subsequent orders from repeat customers, it’s helpful to know what’s the initial point of re-engagement that helped convert the customer (that might be more along the lines of email, SMS, and retargeting ads).
Last Touch Attribution
Last Touch attribution is the exact opposite. It assigns full credit for the conversion to the customer’s last touchpoint.
For example, if our flow of touches goes: Google Ad > YouTube Ad > Instagram Ad then the Instagram Ad would get all the credit for the sale under last touch attribution.
This is helpful for optimizing certain channels and content for further down the funnel. If brands see a pattern of specific channels helping give customers that last push before converting, then they can try and push to get those pieces of content in front of customers at a later stage in their purchasing journey.
Multi Touch Attribution
Multi Touch Attribution, mostly commonly used in “Linear Attribution” form, assigns equal credit to all touchpoints in the customer’s conversion path.
Example: If a customer has 3 separate touchpoints with content/channels ahead of making their purchase, each of those touchpoints will receive one third of the credit for that sale.
Multi Touch/Linear attribution is helpful to get an overall picture of how customers are converting. What channels and what content are working in tandem to help convert customers? Multi Touch attribution answers this by zooming out and giving brands a view of each touchpoint that contributed to their sales.
There are many more variations of multi touch attribution:
- Time Decay Attribution grants more influence to the most recent visits and less influence from earlier visits often counting the number of hours or days. This is helpful when all channels are expected to perform the same action.
- U-Shaped Attribution grants more influence to the first and last visits while offering less influence to all the in-between interactions. This is great for recognizing the importance of attracting customers and converting them over any nurturing work.
- Algorithmic Attribution takes into account a lot more parameters about each interaction and rewards them differently. It is often a matter of measuring incrementality of some channels providing an assist on others. Typically, using retargeting campaigns adds incremental value and should be treated differently from broad targeting campaigns that will attract visitors for the first time.
Is attribution important for ecommerce brands?
At this point, the value of attribution is likely inherently clear; the more ecommerce brands know about the touchpoints in their customer journey, the better they can optimize their marketing strategy and ad spend.
But, when iOS14.5 rolled out, everything changed for ecommerce merchants and advertisers. The update allows users to opt out of tracking. This turned the attribution picture on its head. For the last couple years, marketers and solutions providers alike have been trying to solve the attribution picture with these new restrictions.
The value of attribution was first and foremost coming from its ability to optimize for highly-optimized paid search and paid social campaigns. With tracking becoming less accurate, the costs (CPC and CPA) marketers are willing to pay for ads have gone up. While some of you will have found ways to optimize your ad spend, the base price combined with the cost of attribution platforms has changed acquisition marketing and there is no immediate going back.
We see many brands reassigning their multi-million marketing budgets to new channels and investing more and more in retention, where the low-hanging fruit requiring some work have become the cheapest and the most valuable ways to spend time and budget differently; it’s all about building stronger relationship with customers and being more creative from the first creative ad to each email and piece of content afterward.
Start tracking your channel performance today
If you want to start learning more about your customer behavior and channel performance, Peel offers a free 7-day trial. After the one-click install, Peel will pull your data from your Shopify store and analyze your post-purchase data. Gain access to 100s of retention, revenue, and marketing metrics to get a better understanding of how you’re acquiring customers and retaining them over time.