Multi-Touch Attribution: What’s the Real Value of Branded SEM?

Multi-Touch Attribution: What’s the Real Value of Branded SEM?
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Robert Cooney

Savvy clients are always asking us questions like, “What’s the real value of branded SEM? How do I know I’m not just paying for clicks I’d get organically anyway?” These questions have been around for a long time, but improvements in multi-touch attribution technology are more recently beginning to provide better answers.

Fundamentally, there are three reasons to run branded search:

  1. To keep competitors out of the top spot when they bid on your branded keywords
  2. To help make up for any shortcomings in your organic search presence
  3. To take advantage of ad extensions that are unique to paid placements (click-to-call is an especially important one for businesses interested in telephone leads)

If your competitors are not bidding on your name, and you’re doing a pretty good job with SEO, then running branded paid search may not provide as much “incremental” value as it does “attributed” value, and may not actually be the best use of your media dollars.

When we talk about “incremental” conversions, we mean the ones that wouldn’t have happened without the influence of a given media touchpoint. “Attributed” conversions, on the other hand, are ones that get counted toward a touchpoint based on the attribution model (typically last-click). In many cases, conversions that are attributed to branded search are actually the result of some other media channel (maybe even an offline one) introducing the customer to your brand.

For example, if someone sees my TV ad for Cooney’s Hamster Breeding, and then goes online to search “Cooney’s hamsters” and clicks on the paid ad at the top of the results page, branded SEM gets the credit in a last-click model.

What is multi-touch attribution?

Multi-touch attribution begins to solve this problem by looking at all measurable media touchpoints, using algorithms to figure out which ones are the most important and assigning fractional credit to them (multiple media touchpoints get partial credit for the same conversion). A number of technology vendors offer multi-touch attribution solutions, and the most sophisticated ones can report on the value of television broadcasting by ingesting TV logs and calculating when a corresponding lift in digital response occurred in the markets at the times when the TV ads ran.

Multi-touch attribution models tend to shift credit away from branded search and allow marketers to more correctly value media touchpoints that generate initial brand awareness. When we implement these solutions for clients, it is common for us to see that only about 30-50% of conversions previously attributed to branded SEM are truly incremental for that channel. However, because the cost of an incremental branded search conversion is still so low, it typically makes sense to continue funding.

Measuring performance

Given the more defensive nature of branded SEM, it makes sense to measure performance through KPIs such as impression share, average position, and average CPC. Our clients want to know that we are maximizing defensive coverage at the lowest possible cost. Outside of that, we don’t win the growth game by running branded alone.

Growth is going to come from media channels that drive new customer acquisition—generic SEM, paid social, programmatic digital display, digital video, etc. On a last-click model, these channels look comparatively expensive, but once their value is correctly assessed through multi-touch attribution, we can begin to see how important they are in starting the customer journey.

Robert Cooney is the Director of Digital Media at DAC and is based out of Toronto. If you have questions about how to implement multi-touch attribution, or whether your digital programs have the right investment mix, we’d love to hear from you!