What are the best practices for self-reported attribution?


Self-reported attribution has seen renewed interest among marketers as third-party data collection and privacy regulations become increasingly restrictive. Like many other first-party data collection methods, it’s spared these restrictions. But is it an effective tactic? And if so, how should marketers apply it?

Let’s start with the basics. 

In a nutshell, self-reported attribution is where users tell you how they found your product or service, usually through a form or survey. This type of attribution is considered an important signal as it comes directly from the user, as opposed to being captured by a tracking tool, and because it can capture otherwise untrackable events. 

For example, if a user hears about your product from a friend, goes directly to your website, and buys it, your tracking tool wouldn’t be able to accurately attribute the purchase to a word-of-mouth recommendation. Instead, it would chalk it up to an organic user who made a purchase solely on the merits of the landing page. 

But, if we ask the user how they learned about the product in a lead submission form or in the post-purchase survey, we may uncover additional information about what led them to discover the product. And, while the answers may not always be reliable (e.g., invalid answers) or insightful (e.g., learning that Linkedin is your biggest source of traffic), it is still a valuable signal to monitor and incorporate into the buyer’s journey.

There’s some debate as to whether using only self-reported attribution is better than comprehensive, journey-based attribution. Why not both? Self-reported attribution can complement multi-touch attribution since it can add incremental attribution coverage. But either one, alone, would not be sufficient to capture all the touches in a buyer’s journey. We can, and should, use both to paint a complete picture of every customer journey.

That said, here are five best practices to get you started: 

  1. Take a hybrid approach

Use self-reported attribution tactics to capture events that cannot be tracked (e.g., hearing about a product through a friend or on the radio) and tracked attribution for everything else. With Sona, self-reported answers can be automatically added to a user profile (buyer’s journey dashboard) to close the gaps on otherwise untrackable events. 

  1. Use open-ended, not multiple-choice, questions 

Contrary to popular belief, asking an open-ended question will give you the most accurate responses, even if you may get a nonsensical one from time to time. 

This is because multiple-choice questions tend to bias responses based on the available answers and arrangement of those answers. For example, the user may just click on the first answer to close the pop-up as quickly as possible.

“Where did you first hear about us?” is a great question to start with because it can shed light on your customers’ first touch point and allow you to prioritize the right channels for awareness campaigns.

  1. Ask questions at the point of conversion

This will significantly increase the chances of receiving answers from legitimate, engaged users without disrupting the user experience. For B2B companies, slipping a question into a lead form would be ideal. B2C companies should opt for a post-purchase survey as it would yield a high completion rate without negatively impacting the purchasing process. 

  1. Follow up with an email

A post-conversion email can be a good way to learn more about your customers. Again, make it as simple as possible—one question and nothing else. Use this opportunity to close the gaps in the buyer’s journey with questions such as:

  • Which of the following industry analysts do you follow?
  • How much do review sites (e.g., G2) influence your decision to buy?
  • Who made the final decision to buy?
  • Did you visit our store before making this purchase?

  1. Keep your eye on the big picture

Remember that the goal of a hybrid approach is to get a complete picture of every sale and to continue optimizing your marketing investments based on key metrics (e.g., CAC, ROAS, sales velocity). Analyze the whole buyer’s journey holistically. Compare data from self-reported and tracked sources to uncover trends.

Although self-reported attribution is far from perfect, it can be an effective way to uncover the intangible interactions that occur in nearly every buyer’s journey, such as private chats and calls. However, it’s important not to be caught up in an all-or-nothing mindset. Self-reported attribution can complement your multi-touch attribution efforts as long as you understand its limitations and keep your eye on the big picture.