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Attribution from an Ad Tech Lens: The Five Key Pillars to Onboarding

So, picture this, you’re an advertiser, spending thousands on digital advertisement and you’re wondering “where best should I spend my money?”, “how should I best increase my return on investment?”. In fact, you go as far as to look into which solution is best and decide on platform x. Eureka! “It’s easy, just move away from last-click” you say. Whilst this is certainly a great stride to take, you hit a stumbling block, “this is taking too long, the on-boarding process has been delayed by months and my boss is urging me to justify the use of this platform”. Towards the middle of the on-boarding you then notice “my data doesn’t seem to match up, it’s… inconsistent”. Could this have been avoided?

Onboarding your Attribution Solution

Often, as an advertising consultant, I see this scenario play out. I’m frequently asked how best to onboard an advertiser’s ad tech stack onto an attribution solution. In fact, I would argue the question is sometimes overlooked. This is because advertisers are so focused on moving away from last-click. Whilst this should be a goal for you to strive towards, I would argue that the speed of your deployment (and the subsequent return on investment from your chosen attribution solution) is pinned on how clean, consistent and comprehensive your current ad tech stack is set-up. Because let’s face it, attribution solutions involve onboarding your whole channel mix into one platform.

Using five key pillars, I’m going to discuss how you may tackle the onboarding of your ad tech stack onto an attribution solution and why this is important to your success with attribution.

The five key pillars of onboarding

The First Pillar: Platform Integrations

Platform integrations play a key role in deciding how your attribution solution may ingest channel data. For instance, we often find that ad servers are used to track programmatic display activity; quite common, right? However, an ad server can also be used to track other digital channels (such as email or affiliate marketing). The decision to track these “other” channels is completely up to you, however ensuring your current ad tech platforms are correctly integrated with each other will underpin your ability to action insights from your attribution solution to your bidding platform (to change the way you buy your media).


Ad server and web analytics integration

Additionally, you may have also integrated your ad server with your web analytics solution (which could in fact be your chosen attribution solution). The above diagram illustrates this, and outlines possible paid and organic channels which you may consider in this evaluation process.

The Second Pillar: Platform Hierarchy & Settings

So, your platforms have been integrated correctly with each other (inter-platform), but how have they individually been structured (intra-platform)? How have they been configured?

There are a hundred ways in which you can structure each platform within your ad tech stack. One thing to note is that each platform you use follows a hierarchy (that’s just how ad tech is built). So, you’re going to have to evaluate the structure of each platform and whether they mirror each other nicely. Here’s an illustrative diagram:

Structuring an ad tech stack

The Third Pillar: Cost Data Linking

If you want to include this metric in your attribution solution (and I think you should, because it’s crucial for return on ad spend or return on investment calculation) then there’s a whole load of other dependencies at play. Your channel mix may span different platforms per channel and may involve different agencies (who are often unwilling to share cost data).

Integrating clean cost data into your attribution solution heavily depends on the previous platform hierarchy and settings pillar. Here are three key call-outs:

  1. Every attribution solution has some way to reconcile cost, often in the form of email or manual uploads
  2. You will very likely run into discrepancies in joining cost in an attribution solution
  3. Therefore, governing this process is key

The above is further complicated if your ad tech stack spans cross-market and differing currencies. All food for thought!

The Fourth Pillar: Measurement

Measuring actions on your website is going to be a key in understanding each channel’s worth, in accordance to your advertising KPI. It will also underpin the way in which you activate upon your insights. Put simply, if you take the time to ensure the website you’re sending your audience to has a comprehensive data layer then your attribution solution may leverage these useful insights.

The Fifth Pillar: Naming Taxonomy & URL Parameters

Now, this final pillar is probably the most overlooked and under-nurtured. Yes, naming conventions are boring, but crucially they will underpin the way in which your reporting, benchmarks and analysis is carried forward.

Cross-channel naming taxonomy benefits & considerations

The above diagram details some of the key benefits and considerations in developing a full, cross-channel, robust naming taxonomy. It goes further than “what is the output in my reports?” and it is co-dependent on the hierarchical structure and nuances across and within each ad tech platform. I cannot stress this enough; consistent naming has the ability to slingshot your attribution solution and return on investment.


So, there you have it, five key pillars to keep in mind when driving the onboarding of your attribution solution. Keeping a keen eye on these five pillars even before you embark on using an attribution solution will drive success and ensure that your onboarding is smooth. You may ask “well, Fred, this is all well and good, but where do I start? What are my next steps?”. Here’s a nice summary of the pillars and appropriate next steps:

The 5 key pillars of onboarding

As always if you have any questions or just want some advice on how best to approach onboarding your ad tech stack onto an attribution solution, please get in touch with our experts or see how we can support training you on attribution.