A Debate on Standards Part 2: Adjust's CTO on Mobile Attribution

By Diksha Sahni | August 28th, 2017

Welcome to the second part in our new series, A Debate on Standards, as we open up a space to discuss the problem that a lack of standards in mobile attribution poses. In the first part, AppLift's MD and CRO Maor Sadra shared his insights into the cookieless environment of mobile attribution and the challenges of that a lack of standards pose to the growth of the mobile industry. In this next part, we are joined by Adjust's CTO, Paul Müller, as he shares his views around the current mobile attribution space.

Q: To start off, can you tell us where you see the greatest challenges in the current mobile advertising ecosystem when it comes to attribution?

A: One of the biggest challenges we see in regards to attribution is the sheer volume of mobile acquisition fraud. More specifically, the rampant poaching of organic users to illegitimate attribution sources. This type of fraudulent activity poses a huge threat to any UA operation; the UA managers responsible for buying traffic and who are incentivised by these seemingly good KPIs will continue to buy fraudulent traffic as long as it’s not obvious. Second to this is how to properly attribute within a multi-touch model without giving click spamming even more credit.

Q: There’s a lot of talk about working with the right attribution models, but many over-simplify the approach. How should advertisers choose the right model?

A: The best attribution model depends on the type of app and the type of inventory used. A gaming app using an in-app playable demo inventory will weigh it differently from an eCommerce app using DPA on Facebook. Before running any campaign, advertisers need to clearly define the goal of their marketing efforts and the type of incentive the ad will create for the user. Ad formats should also be considered when choosing the attribution window. For example, short attribution windows are typically associated with high impact inventory like video ads. While different consideration might be needed for the classic banner ad. App type also needs to be considered, especially in regards to multi-touch, free to play games will generally be less concerned with multi touch than an eCommerce app selling high value goods.

Q: How do you address the issue of attribution fraud?

A: Fraud is a complex topic and comes in many different forms. From simulating the entire value chain including app usage, to poaching organic users. Fraudsters have developed methods to significantly profit from the fact that few UA managers have sufficient knowledge about how they are being duped. The only effective approach to fighting fraud is to actively reject attribution before networks pay out to the fraudulent publishers or charge their clients. Any approach that relies on after-the-fact reporting, with the advertiser trying to get their money back retroactively, is not fraud prevention. It is the role of attribution partners like Adjust to be the judge and executioner on fraud. Sadly, very few attribution providers have chosen to make a stand with networks to actively reject fraudulent attributions.

Q: What trends are we seeing in 2017 and what are the current limitations of mobile attribution that must be fixed?

A: In 2017 we see an increasing number of advertisers who want to gain back control of their data to perform complex retargeting and user acquisition campaigns with audience segmentation tools like our Audience Builder. One of the current shortcomings of attribution tools is the inability of advertisers being able to share data on a need-to-know basis. With tools like Audience Builder, advertisers can now selectively share segments with networks for re-targeting or targeting exclusions. Another big win is the ability to create lookalike audiences on platforms like Facebook without sharing the entire revenue event stream of an app.

Q: How important is harmonization of attribution measurement across different channels?

A: Adjust has always enforced unified attribution windows across all networks. Even partners like Facebook or Twitter are attributed on the same 7-day post-click window as like any other network. An important decision we made was to make a clear distinction between click and impression-based attribution. This gives advertisers a comparable and fair overview of the impact of their advertising campaigns, this should be the primary task of any attribution company; measure accurately and fairly across the ecosystem. Of course there will always be experienced advertisers that need to customize attribution windows depending on the inventory they are utilizing, however, the default attribution settings should always be comparable.

Q: The first impressions is/should be the most valuable, yet, the last touch point with the user is what gets attributed - how do you think this problem should be solved?

A: I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that statement that the first impression is always the most important one. We’ve seen for example that users that saw a banner for a free game didn’t show any significant increase in conversion rate once they clicked a second ad. Meaning, for certain things like installing a free game, users seem to have very little memory of previous ad impressions. Another huge underlying issue is click spamming; if we categorically gave credit to the first touch point it becomes vitally important that this engagement actually happened. Unfortunately, in our ecosystem, there is little to no oversight when it comes to the actual ad delivery. So long as this issue is unsolved, it’s dangerous to make blanket statements like this.

Stay tuned for the next part in series in the upcoming weeks. Our readers will get to read on mobile attribution in greater detail through interviews with some of the major attribution partners in the industry on their take on topic of mobile attribution as well as standardization. Our readers will also be able to get deeper insights into the topic with planned webinars with representation from key stakeholders in the industry to start an active dialogue.

Diksha Sahni
Diksha is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at AppLift and is based out of our Bangalore office. When she is not behind her computer writing, you can find her binge watching her favorite movies, finding her happy place at a dance studio, and checking off places on her bucket list.

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