The rapid growth of mobile usage is raising important marketing questions, especially when it comes to attribution. The methods you use to evaluate a web site—UTMs, cookies, etc.—don’t work in the mobile ecosystem, which is fragmented and lacks a set of industry standards.

In our ongoing effort to bring you the most comprehensive information about the mobile ecosystem, we sent our Content team out to track down all the information out there in order to bring you one solid guide with all the necessary information you need to become an expert in mobile marketing attribution.

What is Attribution in Mobile-First Marketing?

Attribution is the process of tracking a user’s journey from click to in-app activity. It keeps tabs on things such as app installs, in-app purchase behavior, repeated app launches, level completions and more.

Why Is It Important?

As the app world continues to grow, so do the budgets and investments in promotional campaigns on mobile, which is why it’s more important than ever that you know exactly where your dollars are going to issue proper credit. But, the attribution insights provide much more. You can think of the results as feedback for improvement.

This year, mobile will account for 63.3% of digital and 24.3% of total media ad spending, and by 2021, eMarketer estimates it will grow to a 77.1% share of digital and 37.1% of total media ad investments.

Mobile publishers made more than $52 billion from in-app advertising in 2016, and, by 2020, that figure is predicted to surpass $117 billion, according to App Annie. As a result, measuring ad revenue is a must for mobile marketers.

Why is it difficult?

A big reason is that it depends on a lot of involvement, from the publisher to the network to provide accurate and unbiased data. This can get a bit problematic because of how fragmented the ecosystem is becoming as well as the lack of industry standard metrics.

Attribution Models

The fragmented mobile ecosystem makes it extremely difficult to have one industry standard of measuring. It’s important to understand what each model does before making your marketing decisions.

Last Click. The entire conversion credit goes to the very last click by the user. It is a common model marketers use to gauge the effectiveness of their marketing activities.

First Click. The entire conversion credit goes to the first point the user clicked, which is a great method when measuring brand awareness.

Linear. Each touchpoint receives equal amounts of attribution.

Position-based. More weight goes to the first click and last click interactions.

Time Decay. The closer it gets to the last click (conversion itself), the higher the percentage of attribution.


The Attribution Cycle

To fully understand the process of user acquisition campaigns and how to analyze them properly, it’s important to first learn how the process works.


  1. The  user watches a mobile ad.
  2. The user clicks on the ad, generating a unique click ID.
  3. We store the Click ID in our database and then report it to the tracking company.
  4. The tracking company directs that link to one of the app stores (iOS / Android)
  5. The user downloads and installs the app
  6. The tracking company’s SDK identifies the app install & open and notifies the system
  7. The tracking company records the install on its system. It identifies the install from the unique click ID and attributes the install to Appnext.

Mobile App Attribution Methods of Measuring

Since apps don’t support traditional tracking methods such as cookies, other means are needed to measure a user clicking an ad through to installing an app, and additional activities within that app. Right now, there is no industry standard for measuring methodology, but there are some methods of measuring that have become universal:

Unique Identifier Matching: These are click-to-install comparisons in real-time, based on GAID (Play) or IDFA (iStore).

Device Fingerprinting: This method works by collecting publicly available data on the mobile device and creating a unique fingerprint. It’s used for further attribution of an app install to a certain channel.

Open URL with Click ID: The user creates the Tracking ID as soon as he or she clicks then it’s turned into a conversion request for an install. The conversion to the advertisement source is then associated with the click to the advertisement source.

Unified Attribution Solution: This integrates various methods of mobile app download tracking. This creates a unified solution for attributing app-to-app installs and mobile web-to-app installs.


View-Through Attribution (VTA)

The ads viewed today often influence consumers, even if they don’t click. So without view-through attribution, marketers can’t gauge the value of their efforts. With universal view-through attribution marketers can understand the true impact of their campaigns. As the industry as a whole is becoming more transparent, it’s important the publisher’s receive credit.

View-through attribution is the capability to credit an install or in-app event to a specific impression.

Main VTA Concerns

It seems that the benefits of view-through are obvious, so why do some marketers still object it?

Post-view: Well, it’s simple. It’s easy to connect an ad click with a conversion. But it’s not that easy to provide that connection in case of a “post-view” conversion because various factors can limit its accuracy. For example, it is possible that a customer didn’t see the ad that was on the site they visited or they already planned to buy a specific product, regardless of ads. Therefore, it is hard to be completely certain that a specific impression triggered customer reaction.


What You Should be Tracking and Measuring

Each different marketing channel has its own set of metrics to measure against, and mobile is no different. But since mobile apps are innately different than web interactions, marketers who are venturing into the world of mobile don’t always know what to look for. Here are few of the ones we believe are most important.

Organic Installs

An organic install is when a user installs your mobile app but did not click on an advertisement to install your app. These installs are not driven by a particular publisher. They come mainly from app store or organic searches. For example, when the user found an app and installed after a keyword or brand search.

Paid Installs

These are installs coming from active promotions outside the app stores. Users install an app in exchange for virtual currency or other extra game content that is in-game, typically through advertising campaigns on a variety of media sources.

Post-Install Activity

This is any action the user takes after he or she has downloaded the app.  Marketers can determine which post-install activities correlated with conversions or other revenue-generating events. Post-install activity can include an app start, registration, usage metrics such as time spent or pages viewed, achievement or level, app content views, adding items to cart, and making an in-app purchase.

Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)

This is the amount of revenue each of your active users (on average) contributes. You will learn whether you’re meeting your goal for the app: monetization.

Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU)

This measures only the subset of users who have completed a buy within the app. You will analyze how your revenue per paying customer is trending over time.

Retention Rate

Retention is a measure of how many users return to your product over time.

Churn Rate

The number of customers who stopped using your service after a specific period of time.

Daily Active Users (DAU)

It is the number of unique users who start at least one session in the app on any given day.

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

This is the unique number of people who used your app in a specific month or the prior 30 days.

Lifetime Value (LTV)

This is the predictive measurement of your net-profit attributed to a current, ongoing relationship with the user and the product.  Once you can predict a user’s LTV, you can make more informed decisions that will help your company maximize the effectiveness of each marketing strategy.

Return On Investment (ROI)/ Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS)

Also referred to as Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS), this measures the amount of return on an investment relative to the investment’s cost. These days you can measure not only in-app revenue/sales but also ad revenue on a user level. Some also try to give a value to the users’ social contribution to the app either inside the app or by sharing and inviting friends.

Third-Party App Tracking Platforms

Developers engaging in user acquisition activities with other media sources will likely need to integrate with a third-party provider. These are important for advertisers and developers because they provide a service like Google Analytics, but  just for mobile apps. Attribution providers work in different pricing models and have different features; most offer much more than just attribution features. Now, they offer marketing analytics, fraud prevention, creative performance and more. So before picking, compare at least 3 options.

Note: Remember, most providers don’t charge for organic traffic, which means you only start paying when you start tracking your marketing activities. Some of the industry’s most popular attribution companies include the following:


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