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February 17, 2019
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How Mobile App Attribution Hurts Your Acquisition Efforts

by Roman Zhdanov on 07/11/17 11:24:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Attribution is a practice that performance advertisers use to understand which marketing and advertising channels are most effective at persuading customers to take a certain action. For mobile gaming companies, this means knowing which marketing levers are driving installs. However, as mobile developers grow and diversify the number of channels they use to acquire users (incorporating TV, online video ads, etc.), correctly calibrating the measurement settings they’ve established can have a major impact on the business outcome and how many organic versus paid installs they receive. Alternatively, mobile gaming companies must be careful to minimize the damage that attribution windows can cause to their organic install base, and ultimately improve their strategies moving forward.

Who sets Attribution and what shapes their decisions?

Attribution is set by two major types of companies in the mobile game industry. The first are attribution partners and the second are media companies like Facebook, Google and video ad networks. Technically, it is the advertisers who select the attribution windows, but they are pushed by media partners to set it to the (long) industry standard of 7 days for clicks and impressions (view-through). This benefits the partners most, allowing them to claim credit for more installs and as a result be more profitable for advertisers. In fact, the biggest media giants influence attribution settings on their platform, often leaving advertisers no other option but to align with them or have discrepancies between their install data and that of the advertisers. Ad networks themselves also benefit from the standard 7-day clicks and impression attribution window. It figures that some organic installs will always be claimed as paid advertisements.

To complicate things further, the tracking partners mentioned above have different methods of capturing attribution; advertisers are essentially forced to utilize non-corresponding data to more accurately understand which marketing is driving the best results, and even de-duplify attribution (multiple ad networks and publishers claiming credit for the same paid install). For example, a user who viewed an advertisement on a video ad network (view-through installs) and then clicked on Facebook ad within a seven day period, will be attributed twice if the video ad network and Facebook ads were using different tracking providers.

How mobile attribution can turn against companies

For offline efforts of user acquisition, like TV advertisements, long attribution windows can lead to wrongful attribution of paid video advertisements instead of organic credit being given. If an advertiser decides to run a TV campaign to grow their audience reach, the company expects to see a lift in their organic installs to validate the campaign’s success. There is obviously no ‘click-through’ on TV advertising, so most users will go directly to the App store to download the game. An advertiser setting a long window for clicks and impressions will be disappointed to find out his TV ads, which should have been attributed organic installs, are instead attributed to a digital channel after the user views or clicks a digital ad for the game seven days after watching the TV spot. Not only does that undermine the campaign, but it can cost the company extra money for video ads that did not lead to installs. This advertiser may never run another TV campaign again despite significant actual success, due to poor execution on attribution.

The second way attribution windows can negatively impact mobile gaming companies is click spamming. Certain media companies manipulate and take advantage of attribution windows to knowingly and incorrectly claim organic installs for themselves. These dodgy tactics usually involve high volume of clicks (more than 1M/day) generated for the advertiser with the hope of attributing some of the users in malicious ways. Essentially, these networks offer an ad that is never seen by the user, but claim credit for the organic install because the ad was ’delivered.’ Advertisers who pay on a CPI (cost per install) basis don’t often realize the click volume and are unaware that they’re paying for their own organic installs. Again, long attribution windows can significantly influence the ability of these companies to operate.

Attribution settings have a significant impact on a mobile app company’s business strategies and their organic install share. While the ideal solution is more control for the advertiser, it’s unlikely that advertisers will be given full authority over attribution windows. However, game developers can still be smart and wary about how attribution is used in the mobile app ecosystem. They should be armed with the knowledge to understand how their users are attributed, and test and adjust their individual attribution settings based on their business needs.

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