02 Feb 2024

The Significance of Attribution Models

In the ever-evolving digital advertising landscape, the hotel industry must remain up-to-date with the tools and strategies that drive success. Google Ads, a pivotal platform in the hotel marketing toolkit, provides a variety of attribution models to help hotels understand how their ads contribute to bookings. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the different attribution models available in Google Ads and offer valuable insights on what hoteliers should be cautious of when working with agencies that may use tactics to inflate conversion data for their own benefit.

Attribution models are the compass guiding hotels through the intricate customer journey. They illuminate the interactions and marketing channels that shape a guest’s path to booking. By selecting the appropriate attribution model, hotels can allocate their advertising budget effectively, fine-tune their campaigns, and make data-driven decisions tailored to the unique needs of the hospitality industry.

Exploring All Attribution Models

  • Last Click Attribution: This model gives full credit to the last interaction that led to a booking. While it’s straightforward, it may not always capture the entire booking journey, which can involve multiple touchpoints.
  • Data-Driven Attribution: Google Ads leverages machine learning to assign credit to touchpoints based on their actual impact on bookings. It’s adaptive and dynamic but requires a substantial amount of data to perform optimally.

Data-Driven Attribution Model in Action 

A potential hotel guest is planning a weekend getaway with her family. She’s been considering various destinations and browsing online for the perfect hotel. During her research, she encounters a hotel’s Google Ads campaign.

Touchpoint 1: Discovery

She initiates her journey by searching for “family-friendly hotels in [destination]” on Google. Then she clicks on a Google Ads link for a hotel which appears in the search results.

Touchpoint 2: Engagement

The potential guest then explores the hotel’s website, browsing through room options, amenities, and guest reviews. She doesn’t make a booking at this point but signs up for the hotel’s newsletter to receive special offers.

Touchpoint 3: Further Research

Over the next few days, she receives a promotional email from the hotel, enticing her with a limited-time discount. Intrigued, she revisits the hotel’s website by directly typing the URL into her browser and navigating to specific room details.

Touchpoint 4: Booking

A week later, the guest decided to book her stay at the hotel. This time, she doesn’t click on any ads. Instead, she directly types the hotel’s website into her browser, recalling the name from her earlier research, and proceeds to make a reservation.

Attribution with Data-Driven Model:

In this scenario, the data-driven attribution model takes into account all the touchpoints the guest has had with the hotel, including the initial click from the Google Ads campaign, her engagement with the website, the newsletter sign-up, and her direct return to the website for the booking.

Last-Click Attribution Model Scenario

A business traveler is planning his upcoming trip to attend a conference in a new city. He needs to find accommodation for a two-night stay.

Touchpoint 1: Google Search

He begins his search by typing “Business hotels in [conference city]” into the Google search bar and proceeds to click on an organic search result.  This then leads him to a popular travel website that lists various hotel options.

Touchpoint 2: Browsing Hotel Options

While browsing the travel website, he explores multiple hotel listings, comparing prices, locations, and guest reviews. He finds a hotel that catches his attention but doesn’t take any immediate action.

Touchpoint 3: Google Ads Click

A couple of days later, he received a targeted Google Ads display ad for the same hotel he had considered earlier. The ad highlights a special promotion for conference attendees and includes a direct link to the hotel’s website.

Touchpoint 4: Booking

Intrigued by the promotional offer and recognizing the hotel from his prior research, he clicks on the Google Ads display ad. He is directed to the hotel’s official website, where he immediately proceeds to make a reservation for his two-night stay.

Attribution with ‘Last Click’ Model:

The ‘last click’ attribution model attributes the hotel booking entirely to the final touchpoint, which is the guest’s click on the Google Ads display ad. This model assigns 100% of the credit for the conversion to this last interaction while disregarding the previous touchpoints.

Google’s Removal of Popular Attribution Models

Commencing in June 2023, Google has made the decision to retire four attribution models (first click, linear, time decay, and position-based) within Google Ads. This development has sparked a range of responses within the advertising community, including hotels engaged in marketing through Google Ads.

In a situation where a retired attribution model was still being utilized due to a previous setup, Google Ads will automatically transition conversion actions to data-driven attribution starting in September 2023.  Alternatively, hotels have the option to manually switch to the ‘last click’ model. The implications of this transition on hotels’ advertising strategies are significant and warrant careful consideration. Advertisers in the hotel industry should be prepared to adapt to these changes and assess their impact on their marketing performance and ROI.

Choosing the Right Attribution Model

Selecting the ideal attribution model for your hotel’s advertising strategy now requires careful consideration, especially with the absence of first click, linear, time decay, and position-based attribution models. To make an informed choice, take into account the following factors:

  • Guest Journey Complexity: Given that the hotel booking process typically involves multiple touchpoints, it becomes crucial to opt for a multi-touch attribution model that can still be utilized. Models like Data-Driven Attribution are better aligned with the intricate guest journey in the hospitality industry.
  • Types of Conversions: As the retired attribution models are being phased out, aligning your selection with the specific conversion goals your hotel aims to achieve is crucial. For instance, consider the type of goal in place whether it’s geared towards room bookings or an alternative conversion such as restaurant reservations or spa bookings.
  • Budget Allocation: Aligning your chosen attribution model with your advertising budget allocation strategy remains pivotal. Now more than ever, understanding how models emphasize early-stage interactions or focus on the final click is crucial for tailoring your efforts. For instance, models emphasizing early-stage interactions are well-suited for brand awareness campaigns, while those emphasizing the final click may be apt for direct booking efforts.

In light of the changes in Google’s attribution models, adapting your hotel’s attribution strategy is essential for continued success in the digital advertising landscape.

Guarding Against Misleading Attribution Tactics

Collaborating with a digital marketing agency can elevate your hotel’s advertising efforts, but vigilance is essential to ensure transparency and ethical practices. Be on the lookout for these potential red flags:

  • Overemphasis on a Single Attribution Model: If an agency insists on using only one attribution model without considering the nuances of the hotel industry, it may indicate inflexibility or an attempt to inflate specific metrics.
  • Lack of Transparency: Agencies should provide detailed, transparent reports on how they track and attribute conversions. Any reluctance to share this information should raise concerns.
  • Unexplained Surges in Conversions: If you observe sudden spikes in conversions that cannot be attributed to changes in your advertising strategy or market conditions, investigate whether the agency might be engaging in questionable practices.
  • Opaque Data Sources: Ensure your agency does not rely on undisclosed or unverified data sources to report conversions. All data should be transparent, reliable, and reflective of your hotel’s true performance.
  • Expanding the Conversion Window: Some agencies may employ tactics to expand the conversion window, allowing them to take credit for conversions that occurred more than 30+ days after a user’s initial interaction. While this isn’t inherently unethical, ensuring that such extensions are justified and accurately represent customer behavior is essential. Be cautious if the agency consistently pushes for an extended conversion window without clear reasoning or evidence to support it.

Selecting the right attribution model in Google Ads is pivotal for hotels. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each model empowers hoteliers to make informed decisions that align with their unique business objectives. Moreover, maintaining transparency and ethical standards when partnering with digital marketing agencies is crucial to ensure that your hotel’s data is used ethically and accurately. An ethical and collaborative approach to attribution modeling will steer your hotel toward long-term success in the digital advertising landscape.