What you need to know about attribution windows

Each marketing campaign holds so much potential — and the right attribution reporting tools can help agencies realize that potential. Attribution windows are one such tool, producing game-changing data by revealing the immediate and long-term effectiveness of marketing activities. Here’s a look at how windows take marketing intelligence to another level.

Attribution reporting: A quick primer

The launch of a new marketing campaign is marked with excitement and uncertainty. You want to show success for your client, but there’s always some doubt over whether you’re using the right channels to achieve that success. With so many channels available, finding the balancing act that produces great results may feel daunting. The numbers behind those channels are impressive, inspiring, and a little overwhelming:

In today’s digital world, the consumer’s purchasing experience is rarely linear. People may search for a product in Google, read reviews on Facebook, subscribe to a business’s Twitter feed, and check out an Instagram page — all before ever visiting the company’s website or calling.

The possibilities are seemingly endless, but gathering data from every individual buyer’s journey becomes a challenge. Assessing return on advertising spend (ROAS) was easy when a business spent money on just one or two channels, but in the current marketing environment, clients can draw leads from sources without ever spending a dime on ads. Without accurate, intricate reporting, agencies and their clients struggle to determine which strategies are working or flailing.

Enter attribution reporting, which takes into account every touchpoint on a person’s path to purchase (or non-purchase). Various reporting models give agencies a unique granular view of how a lead becomes a customer, thus identifying ideal combinations and strategies to maximize marketing activities. This data receives an additional boost when attribution windows enter the equation.

What is an attribution window?

Simply, an attribution window is a period of time you set between a first touch and a conversion to allow that conversion to be credited to that same first touch.

For example, someone sees an element of a marketing campaign — perhaps through a paid ad, a social media post, an email, or even an offline source (more on that later) — and hopefully converts by clicking, replying, calling, or doing anything else that advances the lead. Attribution data is generated, and marketers can analyze the results and accordingly plot their strategy.

However, the time between someone consuming a paid ad or another marketing message and that person actually converting isn’t so obvious. A prospect may open an email and wait a few weeks before clicking on a link within. Or, a Facebook user may see an ad today, see the same ad tomorrow, and see it again the next day, but decide not to click until that ad appears on their feed next week. As much as you would prefer conversions to be instant, the reality is that sometimes prospects take their time.

The time from first touchpoint to becoming a paying customer also may be undefined. Leads take a journey to purchase, but that journey may be slow, veering into so many detours that determining which source was the starting or most effective point for the conversion can be tricky. For example, if someone conducts a Google search, sees your business first on paid results, and doesn’t click, but two months later organically types in the web address — perhaps even after the paid campaign ended — how can you be sure the sponsored result truly led to the sale?

Attribution windows provide a way to define the time between first touchpoint and various conversions. In this way, the efficacy — or lack thereof — of marketing strategies can be set based on the type of campaign, user behavior, the performance of past campaigns and conversions, and a variety of other factors.

Practically, if a window shows email recipients are taking weeks to click on a link, that information could drive a redesign of the email template or an adjustment to the time of day an email is sent. Or, if someone clicks on a Facebook ad they see right away but doesn’t visit any of the site’s other webpages until weeks later, perhaps the ad isn’t opening the most captivating page. Without attribution windows, marketers are left guessing the impact of their campaigns.

Properly timing attribution windows

Although attribution windows may be “factory” preset depending on the platform being used, you can define their parameters to effectively use them — and to deliver the strongest, most logical marketing data. This is critical, because an improperly set window can throw off reports and paint an inaccurate picture of campaign performance. Consider:

  • If a window is set for too long, any initial touchpoints may have nothing to do with eventual conversions — another marketing message could have occurred in between and instead spurred the prospect to click or call.
  • If a window is set for too short, the touchpoint may not be given its due credit for propelling someone into and through the buyer’s journey.

These scenarios simplify what’s at stake: poor data, misinformed strategy, and diminished marketing results.

The kind of window you set depends on many factors: the product, target audience, marketing channel, attribution model, and more. Although a seven-day click-through window to conversion is a somewhat standard starting point, there’s no one-size-fits-all number that works for every business.

Larger purchases tend to require more time after the initial clicks; alternately, consumers usually don’t spend weeks considering products that are better characterized as impulse buys. Ultimately, you may need to run testing on which windows produce the best data within the attribution models you’re using.

Understanding Facebook attribution windows

Facebook’s attribution tool gives users numerous window options. By default, Facebook’s window is set at a one-day view and a 28-day click — so that anything a user does one day after viewing a Facebook ad or four weeks after clicking counts toward the attribution data.

Beyond the default setting, users can adjust windows between click-through attribution (tracking when someone clicked on an ad) or view-through attribution (when someone saw an ad but took another action during the set time frame) — or select both — as well as pick a one-, seven-, or 28-day window for both views and clicks.

Facebook also allows users to compare look-back windows for analysis. Visit its page to learn more about working with attribution windows in Ads Manager.

Understanding Google Ads attribution windows

Google Ads offers attribution models for Search Network and Shopping ads, to track website, Google Analytics, phone, and import conversion actions. Paid ads on Google are a different beast than Facebook, and that’s reflected in the window options available.

The default length for click-through attribution windows in Google Ads is seven days, but that can be adjusted to as short as one day (which isn’t recommended for most businesses using paid search on Google) and as long as 90 days. Google Ads also offers a way to check lag time in other reports to help determine the ideal window to set. Visit Google Ads’ page on attribution windows to learn more about how to set up and maximize this tool.

Gathering attribution data from offline sources

Offline marketing channels such as print advertising, billboards, radio, brochures, and flyers present a unique attribution challenge: How do you track non-digital touchpoints in a marketing world that’s all about digital data?

Call tracking software provides a steady answer by identifying how prospects reached your client’s business and what they did after calling, texting, emailing, or visiting the website. Moreover, the best solutions chart every touchpoint and conversion — including the windows around when those actions were taken — detailing the journey leads are taking to purchase and delivering valuable intelligence that informs strategy.

Work at an agency? To learn more about how call tracking can help your clients, check out our guides, How to use CallRail to build profitable services at your agency and Is your client a fit for CallRail?