This week on the Inbound Success podcast, Joel Maldonado of Path Interactive talks about the attribution modeling work that won his company the first ever Google Display Innovation Award.
Joel and the team at Path Interactive were working with their client iCIMS to improve the company's ability to understand the performance of its marketing channels, and as part of the project, they built a custom attribution model that tied various software programs iCIMS was using to Google.
Using the model, they were able to determine that Google display advertising was actually driving seven times more results than they originally thought.
Based on this data, the company increased its spend on Google ads and in conjunction with that, its marketing results.
In this episode, Joel breaks down exactly how Path Interactive was able to construct an attribution model that gave iCIMS complete clarity about what was driving its marketing results, and showcases why it's so important to get attribution right.
Kathleen (00:01): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth. And this week, my guest is Joel Maldonado, who is the Acquisition and Growth Lead for Digital Media at Path Interactive. Welcome Joel, how are you?
Joel (00:25): Doing well? How are you?
Kathleen (00:26): I'm great. I'm really excited to chat with you. And before we get started, could you tell my listeners a little bit about yourself? What's your background? What do you do at Path and what does the company do?
Joel (00:41): Sure. So I'm Joel. My background is I, I I've, I've been in the industry since 2011. So nearly a decade, which makes me feel old. But I went to school at Villanova University. So out of Philly, and kind of moved to New York immediately after, and I've been in the marketing industry ever since. I started working my career in a couple, a couple of startups, Target Spot and My Supermarket. And since 2013, I've been lucky enough to be at Path Interactive for the past seven years. And really, what we do is we're a full service digital agency. So we manage paid media campaigns. We have an SEO service channel. We also have an analytics team that does a lot of like pixel implementation, reporting infrastructure, custom integrations, which we might get into some of that today, as well as conversion rate optimizations.
Joel (01:38): We have a creative team that kind of does a couple of functions. They design and build websites, and they also really work as our in house creative to support any media campaigns or social engagements that we have going on. So its really just kind of across the board, a full service digital agency. We also do video production. So kind of covering all of our bases there at Path Interactive. I kind of wear a couple hats. So I am on the paid media team or service channel at Path. So I kind of lead my own team and have my own book of business and clients that I manage and those relationships and those budgets on a monthly basis. But I'm also, I also sit on the leadership team at Path, which really for us, that's more about really guiding the strategic vision of the company over the next couple of years, as well as trying to make sure that we continue to make Path Interactive a better place to work for our employees. So that's something that we do on an ongoing basis every two weeks to really hammer home those two goals.
Kathleen (02:49): That's great. And, and I got connected with you because you were doing paid media work for a friend of mine who's head of marketing for a company down in Florida, and she was just so impressed by the work you had done. So immediately I thought, I've got to talk to this guy. That's how I find a lot of my guests, is just hearing about the great work that they're doing, you know, and it's interesting. So you're on the paid media side and within paid media, there's obviously so many different channels. But then the company also does, as you said, all kinds of different things like websites and video and lead generation campaigns, et cetera. You know, one of the, I feel like one of the holy grails for marketers is attribution. At the end of the day, being able to report to the rest of the company, you know, how the dollars they're spending and how the activities they're engaged in are translating into revenue, but it's such a hard problem to solve, especially when you've got activities in all these different areas. And so I know you've done some work around figuring out attribution and you guys have actually won some awards for the work you've done in that area. Is that right?
Joel (03:59): Yeah, absolutely. So, and I think it was back 2017 or 2018, we won the very first Google Display Innovation Award for work we've done with iCIMS which is basically, they're a talent acquisition SaaS software company based out of New Jersey. And it's been a company that's grown a lot over the years. And they, they, they handle kind of a few different things within the talent acquisition space. Most of what they do is recruiting, but they also do what's called kind of recruitment marketing. And they, they had some acquisitions along the way. So, so now they have kind of extensions of, of some of their recruiting and talent acquisition products and services. So it's, it's definitely an interesting company that's, you know, they're based in technology. So they kind of understand the need for using technology to not just grow your company, but also improve your products. So I think it was, it made sense that we're able to work closely with them to kind of grow their, their customer base and their marketing budgets.
Kathleen (05:04): So can you tell me a little bit about kind of the challenge they came to you with and, and what was the work that you did for them?
Joel (05:12): Yeah, so the challenge with iCIMS, what we've been working with them for, I want to say six to seven years now. So they have been a long time client. When we started with them, they, they wanted to kind of grow their overall customer base but they were very focused in, on kind of last click attribution and, and really judging everything that they do based on last click attribution. And at the time they did have a sizeable display budget and based on kind of the current metrics that they were dealing with they, they kind of saw that display was, was almost this kind of wasteful spend. It didn't really lead to opportunities, which is really the way they grow their businesses is through opportunities. And based on their technology and their measurement capabilities at the time, what their numbers were, what they were telling them was that their display spend was, was unprofitable or, or was. So the challenge for us was to, to really understand what was happening with their display spend and, and understand if any of it was impactful and, and how it was impacting some of their search budget or some of their other marketing channels.
Joel (06:32): So we knew that we needed to really get better measurement tools in place and better attribution in place to understand how to tweak their display budgets and tactics to really grow their business. Does that make sense?
Kathleen (06:46): How did you go about doing that? And, and I mean, what, I guess, if you could get into also the tech stack behind it and let's get into all the gory details.
Joel (06:56): Absolutely. Yeah. So we started by building out our own custom integrations. So we have a few tools that we use depending on kind of what our client's needs are. So one of those is Marin software, which is a bid management tool. So we were able to build an integration from the client's CRM, which is Salesforce in this case, to Marin software, which was our bid management tool. So what we did there, was we essentially created a framework where anyone that gets to the client's website is given sort of this unique identifier. It's something that's not PII or personal information, its just, you know, an alpha numeric code or a number that's on there. And what we do with that is, when someone is assigned that number, as soon as they get to the site, when they fill out a lead capture form, we have some hidden fields and some technology behind the lead capture form that will essentially record that number.
Joel (08:01): And what that does is, you know, let's say they have Pardot or a HubSpot which, which is what powers their forms, that number will kind of follow them along the sales cycle at all of the different stages. And when it gets to any particular milestone that's important to us, such as opportunity stage, that information is sent from Salesforce back to our Marin software so that we can see from, you know, whether it's a channel level all the way down to the creative and keyword level, what types of creatives, keywords or tactics are really driving opportunities. And that, that was kind of like a phase one of, of how we really started to, to fine tune and grow their customer base. Now, the challenges with this piece was that you know, at, at that time, everything was still a click based model, right?
Joel (08:57): So you know, Marin's pixels and things like that, they, they really record all activity on the website, but it's all click based activity. So from there, once we were able to really fine tune their, their search budgets and their display budgets a little bit better from a last click standpoint, but more so less on what drives front end leads or lead captures and really emphasize on what drives opportunities. Then we really start to get an understanding of, of kind of what works on a last click basis. But we knew that, you know, display was still something that, that we needed to tackle and get underneath. And we knew that display is not just going to have an impact on your advertising from a click based standpoint. It's also going to have value from an impression based standpoint where people are seeing those ads and, you know, they visit the website you have through paid search, organic search or even direct.
Joel (09:53): And so display really wasn't getting credit for, for some of that. So we still had to find a way to, to understand more of the display side. And, and, you know, the limitations of that first integration weren't gonna allow us to do that. So we started looking elsewhere and we landed on using Google analytics to be able to, to try to tie back impressions to all of that, all that performance. So we kind of use the same methodology in terms of assigning this alphanumeric number to anyone that visits the website and, and using Salesforce to communicate that back to another system. And when we integrated that process with Google analytics, with Google Analytics 360, you are able to see not just click based interactions, but also impression based interactions and how that influences other channels throughout the entire conversion funnel. So, you know, we, we basically essentially created a second custom integration where we upload a, what we call offline data, which is just data that comes from Salesforce, and what happens to someone who reaches a critical milestone or, or stage such as opportunity. And we would load that back into Google analytics, again, marrying the marketing data with the CRM data. And that's when we really started to understand how our displacement was influencing our search span and even organic channels, email, and all the other channels. Yeah.
Kathleen (11:28): I have so many questions. I guess the first one is, all of this starts with this unique identifier, from what I understand. So I get the concept of, like, for example, I use HubSpot, and if somebody comes to the site, they fill out a form. I understand the concept of having a hidden field that they don't see, but that you've prepopulated if you will. So when they submit the form, that goes into their contact record. But how are you generating that random number for that field?
Joel (12:03): Yeah. So in the past, you know, we kind of just created our own using some, some code and logic. Most recently we've found it's been more efficient to use, what's called a GA Client ID or Client ID. So Google analytics essentially does the same, same thing. You know, when someone gets to the website, they actually try to assign an alpha numeric number so that they can you know, tie back all of these sessions and user behavior through analytics. So we just started to take you back off of, off of that and really use that as a form of tying everything back together.
Kathleen (12:40): So is, is the only way to connect those two things like let's say HubSpot and that Google Analytics unique identifier, the only way to do that through a custom integration, or are there any out of the box tools?
Joel (12:53): I did, I don't believe there's any out of the box tools that, that I know of. You know, if you think about Google ads that Google ads has like auto tagging, which they use a what's called a GCLID or a Google Click ID, and essentially the very similar alphanumeric number that Google Analytics knows how to kind of decode that and translate that into campaign creatives and keywords and things like that. But our integrations don't just work in the Google universe. They, they work outside of that which, which I think is very beneficial.
Kathleen (13:29): So basically anybody coming through from Safari or Firefox or any of any of the different browsers would, you'd be able to accomplish this.
Joel (13:42): Yeah, so we, we have the same information for Google as we do Bing, which, most of what we do for iCIMS is, is in Google and Microsoft ads interfaces. But essentially, you can adapt this to Facebook or LinkedIn and other things. And we also get data on their organic search behavior and what they're doing with email and things like that.
Kathleen (14:05): So you assign the unique identifier, which basically tells you from the first conversion you're able to identify, okay, this is, this is that particular unique visitor. And then that identifier, if you have a good Google Analytics set up and marketing automation set up that can carry through to all their different activities on the site. So you mentioned click and impression, and I want to make sure I'm understanding this correctly, because this is not my area of expertise. So I may ask some dumb questions. Like, as a HubSpot user, I know that HubSpot will cookie, as soon as they fill out the form, they're going to get cookied. And so HubSpot will, will follow everything they do on the site. But when you say you're tracking impressions, does that mean you're, you're tracking impressions of the ads and marrying that with impression data from the website?
Joel (14:59): So it's not more, it's that impression data, well, I guess more so you're talking about like the visit visitation data from the website. So what with the Google Analytics 360, if you're running Google Display Network and, you know, your display budget through that interface, because the Google ecosystem that will communicate to Google Analytics, if those products are linked together. So if Google ads is linked up with Google Analytics and so even before someone visits the website, you're getting that, that impression data right now, when someone actually visit the website, we're getting that client ID and passing it through. And then marrying that back into Marin in Google Analytics so that we can see okay, this, these opportunities began within with a display impression. They may have converted somewhere else, like direct or paid search, even branded paid search. But it all started with a display impression.
Kathleen (16:02): Wow. And so is the only reason that you're able to tie this together in a completely holistic way that is, is it because you're using that Google Analytics identifier and carrying that through all the way, and that's why you can marry everything they do before they get to the site with what they do on the site, as well as what they do after they leave the site.
Joel (16:25): Yeah. The, the identifier is definitely the key piece. And even if it's not, you know, within the Google interface you should you'll with that identifier, you'll be able to tie back probably the extra piece where if you're running your display advertising through Google, then you'll also get the impression data, which is going to be helpful.
Kathleen (16:49): Wow. So this is like crazy amazing for marketers, because it sounds like you're able to really see every single touch that you have with this person. But I imagine for somebody who's listening, it would might be kind of creepy for a customer to know that a company can see all of that.
Joel (17:15): Yeah, definitely the, the kind of the age that we're living in. But it's, it's critical for marketers to, to and advertisers to understand particularly around their, their display budgets and how that is influencing other things. I forget, I think it was Brad Wanamaker who said, you know, like 50% of my ad budget is wasted. I just don't know which half. So this is something that really allows us to understand what half or whatever the percentage is, is wasteful, so that we can really move that budget and reallocate to things that we know are working and driving opportunity value.
Kathleen (17:56): So you set this all up, you have all the data coming in. I'm really curious to know what you learned. Like, were there any big surprises that came out of the data?
Joel (18:07): Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. So if you look at only a click based model about only 4% of opportunities are given credit to display but with, with this revamped attribution model, we actually saw that about a third, a third, really 33% of opportunities contained display impression, somewhere along that conversion path. And, and at least a quarter of those, 25% actually began with a display impression. So we understood that display has incredible value, and that's kind of how we were able to, to grow their budgets and bring in more leads, bring in more opportunities and essentially help them grow their business.
Kathleen (18:56): So am I right? That, that display actually accounted for somewhere between four and six times, the opportunities that you were originally thinking it accounted for based on the initial dataset?
Joel (19:11): Right? It's like seven and a half.
Kathleen (19:14): Wow.
Joel (19:14): A five X increase from what we thought and sort of a, a good cycle. And you get some momentum from that because once you understand the parts of display that are driving those opportunities, you can continue to reinvest and re funnel, kind of hitting on all gears there.
Kathleen (19:39): So did that cause them to change their budgets? I would. I mean, if it were me, I would think I'd want to increase my budgets
Joel (19:50): Kathleen, we'll see increases of anywhere from 25 to 35% year over year in terms of, you know, from where we started to three, four years later.
Kathleen (20:03): Wow. That's amazing. So that, that's the project correct? That you won the award from Google for?
Joel (20:13): Yeah, absolutely.
Kathleen (20:17): So is that, that obviously required a certain amount of custom coding in order to put in place. And, and somebody who has the, either the internal resources to be able to do that, or, you know, can work with an agency, could replicate that kind of of a setup. But do you have any advice for somebody that maybe doesn't have access to that, like as, are there other ways of improving attribution that are, that maybe are a little bit simpler or more DIY?
Joel (20:49): Yeah. So with iCIMS, we actually use three different integrations. Two are custom built. One was the first one that I talked about, which was Marin. So Google ads has had a Salesforce integration for probably maybe two to three years now. And, and it's definitely evolved over that time period. So it is a lot easier nowadays to integrate your, your Google ads in a way that doesn't take a ton of development work. Probably just, you know, five to 10 new hours of, of development work as far as like coding and things like that, to take your Google click ID and make sure that gets assigned in a hidden field to all the contacts and things like that. And to be communicated back to Google ads. And so, you know, if your main, if your main, a driver of performance or your main source of budget is Google ads that's kind of a no brainer to do well. If you're, if you know, CRM, Salesforce is your CRM and you want to get some milestone data based on kind of what you're seeing now, that is still a last click model or, or I should say a click based model. So you're not necessarily going to get the impression value, but at least you'll, you'll understand pretty easily what the opportunity value is of whatever you're, you're managing and Google ads
Kathleen (22:39): That is so fascinating. You know, and how, if somebody was to come to you guys and say, I want to set this up for myself for my own marketing, is that, you know, how long does that take to get set up? Is it, I, and I, I won't say how much does it cost, but like, can you give me an order of magnitude? Is this something that's accessible to most companies or is it crazy expensive to do?
Joel (23:02): Yeah, I think it is accessible to most companies. What we typically do is a lot of these integrations have just so many different factors based on what your tech stack is and your sales cycle and how everything works. So we typically start with, you know, what kind of technology do you use? How does your sales process work? We want to find out as much information as possible about sort of, you know, how your business operates and what your, your, your sales funnel looks like. And then we start to put the pieces together of, all right, you know, maybe you don't need this level of sophistication. You just need something that's a little bit more standard and XYZ is going to work for you. So there's going to be things that, that you don't need. There's going to be things that, that you might need, or maybe you, you kind of build it into a three year plan of our, I need this level of sophisticated laid out. So that in year three, I have you know, more insight into what could be more innovative tactics that we'll be able to do. But I just can't tackle that right now. So it definitely you want to understand kind of what your situation is and plan around that.
Kathleen (24:28): That's so interesting. All right, switching gears. I have two questions I always ask my audience or my guests. And I'm curious to know what you have to say. The first one is, we're all about inbound marketing on this podcast. Is there a particular company or individual that you have seen, that's really killing it with inbound marketing right now?
Joel (24:54): Yeah actually, I mean, to me, the first one when that comes to mind is iCIMs. I think they, they've been a great client and partner for us and in terms of the things that we've wanted to, to implement it and integrate and kind of what our vision was. So they've always, they've always been kind of willing to, to innovate and even outside of what we do, they have a good sales process and having good measurement and things like that. Mmm. And their, their level of sophistication has definitely evolved over the years. So with these integrations, we actually get down to some of the different company size segments that are important to them. So they have kind of company or sometimes different industries. And with all this technology, we've been able to not just look at this one big bucket and say, all right we're driving X amount of overall opportunities, but now we're to the level of looking at opportunities based on company size and industry and all these different factors that impact the growth of their business. So for, for them to kind of really understand that and, and work with us to, to implement those mechanisms, to be able to see that on all of that information on such a granular level to really plan out, you know, what their growth, that's kind of why I would think iCIMS is pretty much the first company that comes to mind.
Kathleen (26:29): I'll definitely have to check them out. And then the second question is, digital marketing is changing so quickly. And marketers, whenever I talk to them, they're always saying I can't keep up. There's so much new stuff. So how do you personally keep yourself educated and kind of on the cutting edge of all of this?
Joel (26:48): Yeah. I mean, there's a few publications that I read such as like Search Engine Land, PPC Hero, things like that. I'm also interested in SEO, you know, which is not my expertise, but I'm curious. So just learning about it in general. So at Path, we have a pretty great SEO lead, her name is Lily Ray. She's always out there speaking. She's very active on Twitter, speaks at a lot of conferences and things like that. So I kind of look to her for, for a lot of SEO specific information. But I think at the end of the day you know, we best learn by, by doing so if, if you're in the platforms every day and really trying to understand how they work, I think over time you get a better understanding of how, how you can innovate from what you have available to you.
Joel (27:49): And I always think it's important, especially in today's world, like 2020 has been the craziest time. If you're a company that is innovating and, and testing new things they're, they're, they're not going to be wasted and that will soften the impact of, of something like a pandemic or you know, all of the, the sort of like the racial justice protests and things that are going on in the world. Like, there's, there's going to be ways that like no one, no one can plan or prepare for something this crazy to happen. But I think if you always are testing and innovating you'll be able to, to find these, these little trinkets of, of areas that are gonna work well for you, because what we've found as marketers is things are always going to change what you've relied on as your bread and butter in the past, historically, who knows if that's going to be available next year. So why not test now and, and really future-proof and build that infrastructure for something that you might need to pivot to before you actually need to do it.
Kathleen (29:00): Yeah, that's a great point. And it has been just an insane year, from wildfires in Australia to pandemics all over the world, to racial you know, protesting, to murder hornets. It's just crazy. So you can't plan for any of that.
Joel (29:19): Right. And even now, you know, it was this July, Facebook boycott, that's going to impact potentially a lot of businesses, especially if the majority of your, your marketing spend is on Facebook. So it's going to be really tough, challenging if, if you know, a lot of advertisers boycott, where do you put budget and how do you continue to grow your business without a source of, of inventory that potentially was one of your biggest sources?
Kathleen (29:52): Yeah, absolutely. Well, this is so fascinating. If somebody wants to learn more about what you're talking about, or check out some information on the campaign that led you to the award, or connect with you and ask a question, what's the best way for them to connect with you online?
Joel (30:09): Yeah. So I'm on LinkedIn. The Path Interactive website does have a case study kind of detailing and really streamlining the conversation that we had today about iCIMS. So that's kind of on our website you know, but feel free to visit pathinteractive.com and go fill out a lead form and get in touch with one of our salespeople. So we can talk about how to partner and improve your business.
Kathleen (30:37): Awesome. Well, I will put all those links in the show notes, and if you're listening and you learned something new, or like what you heard, I would love it if you would head to Apple Podcasts and leave the podcast a five star review so that other people can find us and hear great content, like the stuff that Joel is sharing. And of course, if you know somebody else doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at @workmommywork because I would love to interview them. That's it for this week. Thank you so much, Joel.
Joel (31:07): Absolutely. Appreciate it.
Want to stay updated when the podcast is released?
Drop us your name and email address below and we’ll send you the show notes every Monday!
The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization
Generate more traffic, leads, and sales with search engine optimization
In this free guide, you will learn:
What search engines are and who uses them.
What search engine optimization is and how it works.