Jan 15, 2020

Chris Lundberg

Source Coding, Attribution, Last Click, and Origin

One of the most important tactics for multi-channel organizing is Source Coding. Source coding, sometimes called tag management (thanks, Google Tag Manager), or tracking, and using obscure phrases like: ‘utm_source=’, src=, subsrc=, tracking=, is a mechanism to add in metadata to users interactions that helps you report on that data later. Ubiquitous in direct mail, source coding is often available, but often haphazardly used in the digital realm. UTM sourcing is far and away the most common digital mechanism — usually used by a team member appending a “utm_source=<obscure string of characters>” into a URL — but every different system support slightly different source coding mechanisms and syntax. UTM source has no use outside of the internet — so even experienced organizations are using 2, 3, or a dozen different source coding methods.

Source coding can be used for a lot of things, but I’ll focus on monetary value in this post. The easiest way to do this might be to start with an example.

Let’s say you start a petition to “Save the Anteaters” on a petition site (https://foo.org/anteaters). You then send out an email to your list with the link https://foo.org/anteaters?utm_source=anteater-2019-email. That bolded string is the source code — and everyone who signs that petition will have that source code tagged to their record.

Let’s say someone on your email forwards the email to Jane Smith, and Jane promptly signs the petition and adds her email to your list.

Months pass. Jane is an engaged supporter, signing petitions, occasionally donating a total of $100, hitting a number of different sourced actions. One day she sees a Facebook ad you put out, that links her back to “https://foo.org/donate?utm_source=eoy-2019-facebook”. She gives $10, and signs up for a $10/month recurring transaction.

So, now we’ve got at least two source codes — probably more, but we at least have the most recent, and the very first one.

That most recent source code we call the “Last Click Source Code”. It is the most commonly used source code. With it, we can match that transaction back to the Facebook ad you sent out, to see how effective that ad was. We can also use other information in there — note the ‘eoy-2019’ — that tells us it was a part of the End-of-Year 2019 campaign — so now we can add up all transactions across all platforms for that campaign, and understand how effective the whole campaign was. In reality, advanced organizations might have 20 different elements in the source code, tracking versions, funds, targeting, etc, etc, etc.

At Frakture we call this last-click process ‘attribution’, and it’s critical to multi-channel operations. Because of the recurring nature of the donation, the value of that source code may continue to increase. After 4 months, it would be $40.

There is another very useful source code here – that very first one. We call this code the “Origin Source Code”. It turns out it’s useful to know how people first became a part of your world, so you can run statistics on the long term value of different strategies. The origin source code is closely related to the lifetime value (LTV). In the example above, the Anteater petition first got Jane interested. Over time she gave $100+$10+$10(recurring) — 4 months after the EOY campaign it would total $140.

If there’s no other donors, the Last Click value of that Facebook ad would be $40.

The lifetime or origin value of the Anteater campaign would be $140.

Those numbers can help you determine where to spend your limited communications budget — hey hey metrics:)

(NOTE: Your signup form, petition, payment form, landing page tool, etc will probably not use “utm_source” — you’ll have to figure out the right parameter for each tool (src=, track=, e.g.), but most modern ones will have one.)

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