You’re Doing It Wrong: A Guide to Mobile Organic Attribution

Unattributed direct referral traffic. It’s the bane of every marketer’s existence yet somehow remains the majority of referral traffic in nearly every dashboard. It’s like this creeping darkness, that always leaves people unsure of whether their campaigns are working or not. When marketers run a campaign and don’t see a result, there’s also that doubt that your influence was absorbed into the black hole that is direct. Ultimately, it’s the reason that people describe marketing as an art rather than a science, as you’re forced to use intuition rather than concrete numbers.

And on mobile, it’s become much, much worse. Mobile has divided businesses, fragmented the user experience, and splintered measurement across websites and apps. Marketers are now forced to use different tools to measure each fragmented platform like email, social, website or mobile app; resulting in SDK congestion, duplicated data and wasted marketing spend. In fact, Criteo reports that 1 in 3 conversion events are misattributed because of this division.

But it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. With the right set of tools, marketers can finally have insight into the mysterious direct traffic metrics and stop duplicating efforts across marketing departments.

At Branch, we see companies reduce their direct traffic bucket after spending a small amount of time investing in mapping out their organic traffic across both mobile web and native app. They’ll discover surprising things about their marketing efforts, like that a lot of their paid efforts are actually being tracked as organic, allowing them to significantly boost spend. Or they might discover that a certain organic channel like viral influence is effective at driving conversions.

I’m here to share their tactics.

Step 1: Pick and Measure Your Cross-Platform Objectives

The first step to unlocking all of your direct traffic is to pick the objective. This is the conversion event associated with the success of a given campaign, to know that your user is high value. Simply getting someone to visit your website or download your app is not a good indicator of a high-value user, so you need to think beyond traffic, to the actual conversion event that asks the passing user to commit to your brand or product. For most companies, this is simply a “completed purchase” event associated with some revenue quantity. For audience-based companies, this is most likely a “signup” event or some other event that’s strongly correlated with a retained user.

In today’s world, this is where most companies make the fatal error causing completely inaccurate attribution. You can’t use a single-platform attribution tool and expect to yield accurate results. The majority of companies today are using an app-only attribution tool alongside a web attribution tool, which causes duplicated reporting and misattributed users.

Don’t be caught in this trap. Brands need to use a cross-platform linking and attribution tool to be able to accurately report on the de-duplicated conversion events across web and native app. To do so, you’ll need to outfit your website, Android and iOS app with a few SDKs to track conversion events. For instance, at Branch, we will take care of the complicated de-duplication using the Branch Persona, which spans multiple devices and browsers. The future of attribution is people, not cookies.

Step 2: List Out Channels and Pathways

After you’ve correctly set up your cross-platform conversion tracking from step 1, you’ve enabled the session tracking across all of the different properties that users can engage with your company, such as your website and native app. It doesn’t stop there. In this new, siloed world that mobile has created, referrer tracking doesn’t work the same way as the web.

You must outfit all of your channels with tracking links to track all touch points.

In order to do so, we recommend getting the product and marketing teams in the room to brainstorm all of the interactions that a user can have with your company. Below you can find a generic list that we find covers the majority of companies, but the priorities may shift from company to company:

Channel Description of Main User Interaction on Channel
Mobile Web to App Users that land on mobile web can directly install the app
Desktop Web to App Track a channel’s such as a text-me-the-app service
Viral / Referral Users can share your links via social sharing or native app sharing features
Email You send email campaigns out to your existing users
Organic Social Post links to your social feeds
Native Push Send push notifications to users with the app with links
Affiliate Let partner’s share links on their properties
Organic Search Be discovered via search keywords
Paid Search Pay to promote links in search results
Paid Social Pay to promote links on your social feed
Paid Display Display campaigns linking back to your properties
Paid Retargeting Retarget users with advertisements that visited one of your properties already
Television Show a television advertisement and display targeted link
Radio Play a radio advertisement and mention targeted link
Step 3: Outfit All Channels With Tracking

With the list of all your touchpoints, you’re ready to start fixing your attribution. The last step is to outfit all of your unique touch points with tracking links that can follow the user onto your website or your native application. Turn the above high-level list into a checklist, and work with engineering to ensure that each channel is properly tracked.

Let’s say that you believe that there could be a large number of users who start on your desktop site and then are heading to download your mobile application. One way to properly measure this traffic is to implement a text-me-the-app or email-me-the-app where the user enters their phone or email, then receives a special tracking link via either of those channels on their phone. They can then tap this link to install the app, and you’ll be able to effectively measure this channel. If you’re using a deep linking tracking tool, like Branch, you’ll be able to customize that user’s first install experience.

To implement the above example tracking link, you’d create a form that easily lets the user enter their contact information. Then, on the background, create a tracking link on the fly and send it to the user. You’d want to make sure that these links are tagged with the correct channel, like “Desktop to App” that will be recognizable when you go back to the tracking tool’s dashboard.

Rinse and repeat this process until you have every one of the above channels tracked. We highly recommend that you additionally outfit each link with the required configuration to deep link into the native app when installed. This way, your tracking links also deliver a great user experience.

Once you’ve completed the above, sit back and watch the beautifully clean data roll in. At Branch, we’ve observed many companies that have recently realized that a lot of their presumed organic or direct traffic was actually paid, but just being misattributed. Once they fixed their tracking, they could immediately boost up the budget for ads given this new-found attribution.

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