Mobile Growth Basics: Mobile Attribution

mobile attribution

Mobile attribution is the talk of the mobile industry recently. It’s the key to understanding user behavior and optimizing marketing actions. But what exactly is mobile attribution, why is it important, and how has it changed?

Let’s find out.

What is mobile attribution?

Simply put, mobile attribution links app installs to marketing efforts. Knowing which ad encouraged users to download an app helps marketers optimize their return on ad spend (ROAS) and better tailor future customer acquisition campaigns. 

While on principle, mobile attribution and web attribution are the same—they both track users’ activity—they differ greatly. While web attribution is measured using known methods such as cookies and UTM parameters, mobile attribution must implement alternative methods since user identification is harder to track during the conversion journey. Imagine driving behind a friend: driving on a straight route with little traffic will make following them much easier than if you were on a route with several stop lights, turns, and heavy traffic.


Why is mobile attribution important?

Attribution helps marketers identify which specific advertising effort resulted in conversion. With digital ad prices skyrocketing, knowing which campaigns worked and which didn’t is key to ensuring a high ROAS. 

Since attribution can also track behavior after installation, it can contribute to a better in-app user experience (UX). Better UX equals higher user retention.


How do you establish attribution?

Mobile attribution models fall into two main categories: single-touch attribution and multi-touch attribution. Single-touch attribution—like the first click model—contributes conversion entirely to one marketing effort. Multi-touch attribution takes into account multiple efforts, measuring each to identify better which ad was most responsible for download. 

A significant amount of data is gathered regardless of which method is used. This is where mobile measurement partners (MMPs) come in. MMPs like Adjust or Kochava organize the data gathered via ad tracking tags and software development kits (SDKs) into reports with real-time data for marketers. 

Establishing attribution is becoming increasingly difficult, though, as users prioritize privacy. While attribution used to be primarily identified via deterministic matching methods (using unique device identifiers such as Apple’s IDFA), developments like Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) and SKAdNetwork (SKAN) have forced developers to rely more on probabilistic matching methods (like IP address) to establish attribution. 

Developers should embrace these changes, though, and get creative with the way they collect user data. Because SKAN puts a 24-hour timer on conversions, app developers should enhance UX to keep users engaged and explore different marketing strategies to collect more identifiable data. 

Developers should view changes to attribution methods as an opportunity to better understand and serve their consumers. Luckily, there are plenty of events and online tools to learn from while navigating the mobile industry.