Marketers that advertise in digital media have more information than ever about how many people view their promotions, plus who and where they are in broad terms. But one high-stakes bit of data has been elusive: Which ads drive a consumer to act?
The answer is key for advertisers to figure out which segments of their digital campaigns -- display ads, videos, search or social media -- are the most effective and worthy of their ad dollars.
Many brands rely on so-called last-click attribution to determine which platforms drove conversion events such as phone calls or sales. But that approach can be problematic because it gives credit only to the last touch point that a consumer interacted with before converting, and sheds little light on the consumer's broader shopping journey.
A new tool from digital ad giant Google aims to give brands deeper insight into that journey across devices as consumers move between their tablets, smart phones and computers.
Google Attribution, announced last month, integrates data from Google's AdWords ad-placement service, its Analytics measurement hub and its DoubleClick Search management platform to offer a more complete perspective of the route a consumer took. Google says the data integration will give advertisers more intelligence when setting bids for display ads and search campaigns.
The free tool is in its beta phase and is expected to roll out to more advertisers in the months ahead. Google previously offered only a premium version called Attribution 360.
Some auto marketers are glad to see Google bring more attention to attribution, a hot topic that continues to grow in importance as businesses demand more precision in determining how their ads perform. Some ad experts say Google's rollout of Attribution will spark innovation among tech companies hoping to unveil their own attribution products.
On the other side, some wonder if Google Attribution is simply a way to promote Google's own ad platforms, while giving them more credit for influencing shoppers than they deserve.
Third-party shopping sites could be left in the cold if dealers rely only on Google's Attribution data, says Steve White, CEO of Clarivoy, a digital marketing company whose multitouch product follows the shopping journeys of consumers beyond Google's pathways. Clarivoy says it ranks the influence of paid search, display ads, TV, email, third-party websites, organic search, social media and brand websites.
White says Attribution won't include "view-through" data, which is a critical piece to understanding consumers who may not click on a vehicle detail page on a site but were possibly influenced by it.
To measure view-through activity, Clarivoy places analytics tags on Cars.com so it can track consumers who visit the site's vehicle display pages, don't click on anything, but later visit a dealership's website based on what they saw. White says this level of nuance is missing from Google's click-based measurements.
"One thing Google is trying to do is create a one-size-fits-all type of attribution," White told Automotive News, adding: "Unfortunately, it just doesn't cater to automotive."
Dealers should be able to trust the Attribution data but need to understand they might be getting a "Google-friendly view of the world," says James Grace, senior director of analytics products for Cox Automotive Media Solutions Group.
Grace said he has dealer clients who use Google Analytics with measurement offerings from Cox. He says it's important to be able to validate data with another source if discrepancies appear.
Google didn't respond to the critiques, but referred to a company blog post announcing Attribution.
Another new tool for search ads from Google enables advertisers to bear down on shoppers who appear ready to make a purchase. The "in-market audiences" tool analyzes trillions of search queries and activity across millions of websites, Google says, to determine when consumers are close to buying. Dealers can then target them with more relevant ads.
Google said companies across various industries are seeing a 10 percent improvement in conversion rates with in-market audiences.
"Now I can draw circles around what people's immediate shopping behaviors are," said Jonah Cole, a product manager for search engine marketing at Dominion Dealer Solutions, adding: "They're helping us be more targeted."