The No Bullsh!t Guide to Mobile Attribution

How to wade through the jargon and find the right provider

Get access to the guide today

Today as a mobile marketer, the question is no longer if you are going to invest in mobile attribution, but how to choose the right provider for your business? This is no easy task. Legacy mobile attribution providers built their products and defined this market with zero differentiation, marketing jargon-filled features lists riddled with claims of “proprietary technology” and “industry firsts”, and a race to the bottom to be the cheapest solution out there.

That’s why we decided to write this “no bullsh!t” guide.

This guide breaks down some of the key features and tools offered by attribution providers, both legacy and new-to-the-scene. We’ve organized this criteria into the following seven categories:

  • 01 Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP)
  • 02 Data combining
  • 03 Granularity
  • 04 Reporting
  • 05 Fraud prevention
  • 06 Data retention & accessibility
  • 07 Pricing
The No Bullsh!t Guide
to Mobile Attribution
How to wade through the jargon and find the right provider

According to eMarketer, mobile advertising in the United States is expected to reach over $70 billion this year and account for a whopping 75% of all digital ad spend. As mobile advertising budgets continue to climb, so does the demand for tools and services to measure and optimize these investments. This surge in demand has led to a proliferation of mobile measurement companies and the commoditization of attribution technologies. As a result, many attribution providers rely heavily on inflated claims and marketing jargon as a means to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market.

As a mobile marketer in 2018, the question is no longer if you are going to invest in mobile attribution, but how to choose the right provider for your business? This is no easy task. Legacy mobile attribution providers built their products and defined this market with zero differentiation, marketing jargon-filled features lists riddled with claims of “proprietary technology” and “industry firsts”, and a race to the bottom to be the cheapest solution out there. Even if you’re an attribution expert, researching mobile measurement providers can be a confusing and frustrating experience for marketers.

That’s why we decided to write this “no bullsh*t” guide. In the following pages, we will breakdown some of the key features and tools offered by attribution providers, both legacy, and new-to-the-scene. We will strip away the buzzwords and marketing speak commonly associated with certain feature sets and highlight little-known product limitations to look out for. Our goal is to help you better understand the attribution marketplace and arm you with a set of criteria for evaluating providers. We’ve organized these criteria into the following seven categories:

  • 01 Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP)
  • 02 Data combining
  • 03 Granularity
  • 04 Reporting
  • 05 Fraud prevention
  • 06 Data retention & accessibility
  • 07 Pricing

Whether you’re selecting a mobile measurement partner for the first time or contemplating switching providers, we hope this guide makes your decision a little bit easier!

01
Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP)

When choosing an attribution provider, one of your first steps should be to research their list of integrations. Unfortunately, this is an area that’s often rife with marketing fluff. The attribution marketplace uses “integration” as a blanket term to describe any kind of data exchange between a provider and another platform or network. This makes it easy for providers to boast about their large number of “partner integrations” and hard for marketers to evaluate the depth and quality of these integrations. But the truth is, not all integrations are created equally.

An attribution provider will only be effective if it’s integrated with the media sources you buy from, period. This is particularly crucial if you spend (and you most likely are) on any of the self-attributing networks (such as Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, and Apple). These networks all maintain rigorous certification programs that restrict access to their API for only a handful of measurement providers due to privacy regulations. This highly-vetted group of providers, often referred to as Mobile Measurement Partners (or MMPs), are the only attribution platforms that are able to deliver a complete view of your marketing activity on these networks.

Singular is able to offer marketers access to greater campaign and audience insights as an official Mobile Measurement Partner of Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, and Apple. We are also the only attribution provider with 100% coverage of ad networks.

02
Data combining

There are two main types of integrations marketers need to be aware of in order to understand the complexity of mapping their data. The first is an attribution integration (which delivers user-behavior data) and the second is an ad network integration (which delivers marketing data). To truly understand ROI across your mobile campaigns, creatives and publishers, you need to collect and combine both sets of data. However, the ability to do this is entirely dependent on the provider’s technological capabilities, and almost all providers cannot do both today. Below, we’ll dig deeper into each data integration and demonstrate why it’s necessary for both to be connected in a single platform:

Attribution integrations for user-behavior data The most basic functionality of attribution providers is to collect data through tracking links. These links can also pass additional metadata on top of “macros,” but this method of collecting metadata has serious limitations. Since no two networks are the same, the naming conventions, hierarchy, and availability of data vary drastically. As a result, the macros you can collect are network-dependent and notoriously difficult to create and maintain. Furthermore, click macros are prone to discrepancies, and susceptible to fraud. We’ve found on average that relying completely on tracking link data can lead to discrepancies of up to 30%. This is especially true for metadata such as “cost data”. To make matters worse, tracking links cannot be updated retroactively as your numbers adjust over time, and your end bill will (almost) never match. That’s why it’s vital to choose a provider that is capable of a “dual-integration approach,” as described below.

At Singular, we automate tracking link creation using pre-defined templates. Our deep understanding of every marketing partner ensures that you’re tracking all possible information - no matter where you’re advertising!

Direct integrations for marketing data Direct integrations with the marketing sources are the single most reliable method for collecting complete marketing data. In addition, they are the only way to capture the full metadata that marketers will need in order to optimize their campaigns (such as Creatives, Bids, Campaign Targeting, etc.).

Unfortunately, Direct Integrations are also the most difficult to build and maintain, and two are never alike. As a result, is it not enough to find an attribution provider that claims to have integrations with all of your preferred networks… your provider should also offer a dedicated team for regular maintenance and data QA. It’s equally important to make sure your provider has the flexibility to collect marketing data through other means such as CSV file uploads, email reports, Google Drive, or Dropbox since some networks lack the sophistication to pass all of your data via API.

So how do these integrations work together and why does this matter? Historically, attribution providers have only been accountable for user behavior data. Legacy providers built their products to gather the bare minimum data needed to attribute an install - without any understanding of how media sources actually deliver campaigns. Providing marketing data was an afterthought. This resulted in siloed datasets that are fundamentally not designed to fit together - attribution data is delivered at the user-level and marketing data is delivered in aggregate.

This is why Singular invented the “dual-integration” approach - taking your attribution and ad network integrations to the next level. Rather than simply patching in siloed datasets, we used the knowledge acquired over 5 years of mapping the mobile ecosystem to understand every datapoint reported by every source (and how to standardize it). We built attribution natively into Singular’s larger data platform, allowing us to connect your data automatically and provide ROI at the most granular levels (more on this in the next section).

Singular’s unique dual-integration approach creates a single source of truth for marketing campaign performance and delivers complete, accurate, and actionable data in a single view.

03
Granularity

Perhaps the most meaningful way to draw a distinction between attribution providers is to compare their granularity capabilities. The attribution market is rampant with claims of “comprehensive insights,” “best-in-class data,” and “most robust analytics,” which can make it difficult to separate the signal from the noise.

Ensuring accuracy and completeness when combining and connecting your data is the greatest challenge to granularity. No two sources are the same and even when it is accurate, complete, and attributed, you still need to ensure your marketing campaign data matches your user-level data to unlock ROI at the campaign, publisher, keyword, and creative-levels.

Below are a couple other considerations to keep in mind:

Tracking Links Accurate and granular analytics are only possible if your tracking links are set-up correctly. Creating unique tracking links for every network you advertise with can be a complex and error-prone process. You should select a provider that enables you to create tracking links with proper parameters for each network at scale.

At Singular, we automate tracking link creation using pre-defined templates that automatically map the unique data parameters and taxonomies for every network. We can generate foolproof tracking links automatically with just a single click!

Quality Assurance Mobile attribution data is notoriously unwieldy and inaccurate. Every day your data is subject to network discrepancies, broken integrations, and human error. In order to feel confident in the integrity of your data, it’s imperative to find a provider that offers a dedicated QA team and strong data technology.

Singular’s unique approach to data integration and management powers new levels of granularity. Take our creative reporting as an example. We are able to pull in your ad creative (whether it’s a standard image, GIF, or video) so you can easily match your data to your ads. Using image recognition technology, Singular provides “creative clustering” which automatically groups similar ads for turn-key performance analysis. Alternatively, you can manually tag your creatives to create customized reports and unprecedented creative-level insights.

04
Reporting

Another area where attribution providers are heavily differentiated is reporting. While many providers will provide some way of accessing raw data, for the system to be truly impactful, the reporting interface must be designed in a way for insights to be derived quickly and efficiently.

Here are a few report types that have proven to be indispensable to mobile marketers:

Discrepancy & Transparency No matter how your attribution provider is getting install and cost data (i.e. via API or tracking links), there are bound to be discrepancies between your provider and your media sources. Being able to analyze these discrepancies is extremely valuable to avoid making decisions based on incorrect data.

With Singular, you can compare data sources side by side without having to toggle between dashboards. Using our transparency feature, marketers can select their preferred source for each metric, easily locate discrepancies across the user journey, and set-up alerts when discrepancies exceed a predetermined threshold.

ROI Return On Investment is the single most important metric for mobile marketers. However, most attribution providers are only able to provide ROI insights at the source level because they are unable to reliably match cost and campaign data with user level data. True ROI data empowers you to optimize your advertising by the quality of users it’s driving, instead of just install and revenue data. It’s also a must-have if you want to scale your programs while maintaining or even improving efficiencies.

These examples are a very small subset of the analytics and reporting tools available in the marketplace but we believe they are a solid starting point for evaluating a provider’s capabilities. Remember, in order to determine which platform can deliver the most valuable insights for your business, you have to look beyond the report types offered and explore the data within!

05
Fraud prevention

No matter where you advertise or how much you spend, your mobile campaigns will likely be impacted by fraud.

The biggest mistake marketers can make is to think that fraud is a “nice to have” feature, or that they can “block fraud manually”. Even traffic that looks great (good retention, high ROI) can actually be fraudulent due to attribution manipulation. That’s why we at Singular offer Fraud Prevention for free, and we designed our pricing to be conflict-free (we are not charging per paid installs like other providers).

Even if a provider says they offer “fraud protection,” make sure you read the fine print. Below are a few specifics to pay attention to:

Actual prevention Some attribution providers do not offer prevention, but only detection. That means they will offer “alerts”, where you then have to manually look at the data and fix it in retrospect. This is a purely reactive tactic that does nothing to prevent fraud in its tracks… and running around to networks asking for refunds is of course ineffective and a waste of your time.

Singular’s fraud prevention suite utilizes all known prevention methods (including IP blacklists, geographic outliers, hyper engagement, install validation, time to install analysis, and other statistical methods) to proactively reject fraudulent installs in real-time and save you money.

Custom rule engine As a marketer you know your business better than anyone, and some scenarios are more suspicious than others. Make sure your provider has a way for you to customize the fraud rules, and create new ones that represent your needs.

Reporting & insights Certain providers only offer high-level insights into fraudulent activity, but won’t allow you to drill-down into specifics.

Singular has a customizable and visual dashboard that allows you to drill down multiple levels to truly understand where and how fraud is taking place.

Cost savings Understanding how much of your ad spend is being impacted by fraud is critical. Make sure your provider has the capability of helping you understand how much you’re saving by utilizing your fraud solution.

Singular’s Fraud Prevention is the only tool in the market capable of automatically showing you your cost savings.

Alignment of incentives Most providers charge you based on Attributed Installs, which results in a serious conflict of interest in their ability to effectively block paid installs, i.e. if they are 10% more effective, you’ll save 10%, but their monthly fee is also cut by 10%. To avoid this, be sure to select a provider that does not price based on the number of paid installs.

With fraud costs so high and growing every year, you must ensure that your attribution platform not only detects fraud across your media sources but proactively prevents fraud in real-time, before it can wreak havoc on your budget and analytics.

06
Data Accessibility

One of the critical elements to pay attention to is data accessibility. After all, your data is only valuable if it’s readily available and in a usable format.

This is an area where this is a huge difference between providers, where some offer decent APIs, and some offer rather useless means to export your data, that will make the entire exercise extremely painful.

In the attribution market, there are commonly four different options available for downloading and sharing more robust data with your internal teams and systems:

Real-time postbacks Receive a real-time feed of install and post-install events with customized parameters to your BI warehouse. This method is the most common among attribution providers, but the big downside is that you need to maintain a redundant real-time stack, and if your servers are down, you will lose data and never get it back. As a result many marketers are not fans of this method.

File exports Receive raw data (with customized parameters) in a flexible CSV file to an Amazon S3 bucket, or any other storage. While this is not as real-time as postbacks, your provider can deliver files every 5-10 minutes, and therefore it can be almost as real-time as postbacks. The massive benefit here is that there is no data loss, and you can make sure your data aligns 100% with your provider.

On-demand user-level API While file exports are good for an automated BI, some marketers may need to run ad-hoc user-level queries, and get data right away. Unfortunately, many providers do not have this capability. Without this capability, you’ll have reduced efficiency since you’ll have to reach out to your provider’s support team, and be on the lookout for additional charges if you do - some will charge you for pulling historical data.

On-demand aggregate API Ingesting the full attribution stream is often expensive (computation and storage wise), and customers oftentime want to get only the data they care about. A few providers deliver a customized report API that filters only the data you care about most (whether that’s LTV, retention, or other in-app KPIs), grouped by any number of segments (app, media source, campaign, ad ID, etc).

Many providers offer only one or two of these solutions or charge extra for them. Before choosing an attribution provider, take time to understand the data needs of your Business Intelligence team (or other key internal functions) so you’ll be set up to easily turn your marketing data into authoritative insights!

Singular is the only provider offering all four data delivery options at no extra cost! No matter the format, you can match Singular’s deep user-level insights with your own marketing data to better understand a user’s performance across platforms - all whilst adhering to your data privacy and security needs. We even have additional APIs for marketing metadata such as campaign, creative, cost and more.

07
Pricing

While pricing may be one of the most obvious points of consideration when evaluating attribution providers, we believe it’s far more useful to weigh value over price. Hidden costs and feature charges can add up quickly. So, before you are lured by a low-cost solution, make sure you understand what you’re paying for.

There are three common pricing models in the attribution market today. The first is a CPI model or cost per attributed install. The second model charges for all touchpoints (including clicks, installs etc). While these pricing models can be cost-effective, it’s critical to note that they also introduce a clear conflict of interest. If attribution providers are only paid by the install or click, they are no longer incentivized to combat fraud and double attribution charges. The more effective they are at eliminating erroneous installs, the less money they make.

The third pricing model (and the one Singular adheres to), charges a fixed percentage of your total advertising spend. This keeps pricing predictable and honest.

Still, pricing models aside, the key is what’s included in the base rate. Many attribution providers will offer low-cost CPIs but charge premiums and add-on fees for essential features. Some of the more common add-on charges include:

SDK switching fees

Data storage fees

API access fees

Fraud prevention fees

While cost may be a deciding factor for you, it will be worth your time to look at what’s behind that price tag.

Now that we’ve dug deeper into the key features, tools, and areas of differentiation for mobile attribution providers completely bullsh!t free, we hope you’ll feel a little more confident re-evaluating your current provider or choosing a new one. At the end of the day, you must ensure your attribution partner is flexible, credible. You should be able to configure anything and everything to meet your business needs (whether that’s attribution windows, fraud prevention, or custom views of your data). And, this goes without saying, but you should be able to trust your attribution provider, and know your data is credible, and accurate.

Ready to learn more about Singular's mobile attribution?
Thanks for your request, we’ll be reaching out shortly