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Are You Properly Attributing the Value of Referrals?

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Dealers now spend a significant amount of their monthly budgets driving visitors to their website. Fortunately this can now be carefully measured.

In this article we examine a typical car dealer's key marketing sources to see where their visits originate, and how they can attribute calls to their marketing spend.

The data

To understand which online marketing generated inbound phone calls, we studied data from around 100 dealerships across 6 different brands during the month of March.

We looked at the following key sources to understand what proportion of calls they generated:

  • Organic search
  • Pay per click
  • Autotrader
  • Direct visitors (i.e. they typed in the URL of the dealers' website).

The results

The percentage of calls from each of the four different sources can be summarised as follows:

The highest volume of calls come from people who find the website via organic search. Not surprisingly, pay per click comes second because this can be influenced by the amount of spend made be a dealer.

Although Autotrader is a small percentage (around 1%), it's included in this analysis because dealers often don't attribute any value to the referral visits that Autotrader generates from their website.

Dealers measure their calls from Autotrader direct but our research shows that these referral visits have a value too, adding an extra 10% to the total number of calls from Autotrader.

First and last click attribution – a changing picture

One of the challenges of attribution is whether to assign a call to the first time someone visits your website (first click) or the last time they visit your website (last click). If you're only looking at one, you're missing half the picture.

So which click in a visitor's journey is the most important? This is where it gets really interesting.

Mediahawk attributes both first and last click sources to each visit. The results show some interesting differences:


% change in first to last click









Looking at the quantity of calls attributed to the first click compared to the last click, there is a reduction in the number coming from the paid sources (PPC and Autotrader).

If looked at from a purely last click basis, PPC and Autotrader - as the initial marketing touchpoints - are not necessarily credited for the visits and leads that they subsequently generate.

When looking at each source in detail, these differences can be explained as follows:

  • Organic doesn't change because people will use a search engine and click on an appropriate natural link. Organic search represents over 50% of all calls, emphasising the importance of a strong SEO strategy because people will start with a search engine first before coming to your website.
  • PPC, and to a greater extent, Autotrader are not getting the credit for the initial leads they generate. This is not particularly surprising: prospects will often click on an advert or Autotrader link, look around your website and then come back later via another source.
  • This source is most likely to be direct. Once someone has found your site - either through a search engine or paid source - a proportion will remember the domain name. They then use this direct URL to speed up their access to your site.

As dealers spend increasing amounts of their marketing budget driving traffic to their websites, it becomes increasingly important to understand and manage the appropriate attribution.

Looking closely at the difference between first and last click attribution shows that these both need to be understood and analysed to get a true understanding of appropriate marketing activities.

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