It makes sense that business owners and even some marketers would mix up the roles of marketing analytics and attribution. They essentially represent two sides of the same coin and can be used to generate insights on the same marketing campaigns and strategies.
The differences between these two data-driven efforts are subtle, but they're important. Analytics may be more recognizable, thanks to free resources like Google Analytics and a long history of using analytics to illuminate the performance of digital marketing. But attribution is no longer negotiable, especially with brands using a range of channels to reach their target audience.
You need both to build winning digital campaigns. Here's a quick primer on what makes each unique and important to your company.
Analytics can be a loosely defined term depending on who you ask, but in general, it relates to any data feedback that pertains to customer behavior before and after the click. These data points can be processed through an analytics solution and can generate everything from top-level insights, such as traffic and referral sources, to more complex and revealing stats, such as conversion ratios and the ROI of individual keywords.
If you're seeking answers to which keywords are most productive in earning clicks, what parts of your website earn the most engagement and which landing pages are losing a high percentage of their visitors, then analytics is where you want to go. In business today, one cannot be successful in building a digital presence without the use of analytics to collect feedback and insights into how their digital marketing performs.
In our scenario above, analytics can show you how many people click on an ad, and how many of those clicks become conversions or sales. But this doesn't tell the full story of their customer journey, or what led them to that click in the first place. What other content did that prospect engage with? The ad may help refer them to your page, but other assets likely helped close the deal before the clicked ad was even presented. Online customers feature ever-winding paths-to-purchase that have historically been difficult to track, which makes it hard to give credit to specific channels and campaigns for a sale or conversion.
That's where attribution comes in. According to Think With Google, this approach to data-driven insights takes a deep dive into the behaviors of customers, helping you understand the full customer journey. Attribution can help you understand that while your website traffic is driving strong conversion rates, your social media activity is also making a big contribution by bringing new customers to your website. Or you might find that while email is a strong top-of-funnel marketing channel, it often requires complementary strategies like social and display ad retargeting to advance the customer to the point of a conversion.
Analytics can struggle to understand the many steps a customer takes on their journey from prospect to buyer. However, attribution can help connect those dots. Thanks to better cross-channel, multi-device tracking solutions, it's easier than ever to collect the data needed to accurately attribute sales, conversions and ROI to every marketing channel.
That's not to say that one is better than the other. Analytics and attribution often complement each other's data by providing a complete picture and strengthening insights. As Moz noted, attribution solutions are commonly offered within an analytics platform. If you want the full story on how your marketing is working out, you need to leverage marketing analytics and attribution in a package together.