Mobile Attribution

Mapendo Team
April 14, 2022


Advertisers and app developers who want to grow their app user base often rely on app install campaigns run by several marketing partners. How can they assess the performance of each partner ? That’s where mobile attribution comes into play. 

What is mobile attribution?

Mobile attribution is the technology which matches users’ interactions with mobile ads to events such as installs and in-app actions. The role of mobile attribution is to attribute those actions to the advertising campaigns which generated them. Therefore, it is a key part of the app install campaign ecosystem, which connects advertisers, ad networks and publishers all together.

Mobile attribution is possible by implementing a mobile app tracking SDK, which allows app developers to keep track of all users’ activities within the app. This piece of source code makes it possible to analyze advertising activities such as clicks and impressions related to ads, letting Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) and advertisers know where new users come from and which media source brought them. 

Through the SDK mobile attribution matches two data points, which can be a click and an install, and attributes them to a media source or marketing partner such as an ad network or a mobile Demand Side Platform (DSP). The attribution can work according to three different attribution models: 

  • Last touch: the action is attributed to the channel responsible for the last click before the chosen event;
  • Multi-touch: all the channels responsible for ads engaged by the users share the credit for the action;
  • View-through: the action is attributed to the ad shown to the users, if there had not been a click. 

Last touch is the most common model for app install campaigns and MMPs usually rely on it. However, there are two different attribution technologies used to match the data points: 

  • Deterministic Attribution: the click/impression is matched to the install/in-app event by tracking unique device identifiers such as IDFA (Identifier For Advertisers) for Apple’s devices and GAID (Google Advertising ID) for Android devices. Since these identifiers are unique the attribution is 100% accurate.
  • Probabilistic Attribution: it is based on the collection of behavioral and other contextual user data, so it relies on probabilities trying to match data with a user database.

Following Apple’s release of iOS 14.5, users can choose whether or not to be tracked across mobile apps and this allows them to hide their IDFA, making the deterministic attribution impossible. A valid alternative is SKAdNetwork, Apple’s own attribution technologies, which is 100% accurate in attributing data without compromising users’ privacy. However it has drawbacks about real time optimization for app install campaigns because it works with a delay of 24-48 hours. 

Why is it important?

Mobile attribution is necessary to keep track of installs and in-app events carried out by users. Its purpose is to link the users who generate these events to the media sources which have acquired those years. Mobile attribution allows advertisers to evaluate the performance of their marketing partners, assessing the results of their app install campaigns. Therefore, they can compute their Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) and reward their top performing partners. 

What you need to know about mobile attribution?

  • Mobile attribution allows the measurement of app install campaign performances;
  • Mobile attribution is carried out by Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs);
  • There are three different attribution models: last touch, multi-touch and view-through attribution;
  • There are two main attribution technologies: deterministic attribution and probabilistic attribution;
  • SKAdNetwork is Apple’s attribution technology, introduced to provide deterministic attribution for users who hide their IDFA.