Attribution models: What they are, why they matter, when to use them

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Most paths to purchase are not a straight line. There are lots of ways for customers to discover your brand, engage with it, and move further down the sales funnel. That’s why attribution models have become a necessary tool for marketers looking for data to improve their campaigns.

What is attribution modeling?

Attribution modeling is a strategy that allows marketers to analyze and assign credit to marketing touchpoints that occur at the specific steps of the customer journey, from searching for a product online to making a purchase, and every action in between. Using attribution models helps marketers better understand which parts of their marketing effort are driving the most leads to that part of the sales funnel.

With multi-touch modeling, you can distribute credit across multiple touchpoints to see how marketing interactions affect the entire sales funnel.


Why do attribution models matter in digital marketing?

As a marketer running multiple campaigns on multiple platforms, it can be difficult to determine which mix of PPC keywords, display ads, landing pages, and SEO are generating leads that move efficiently through the sales funnel and down the conversion path. With attribution modelling, marketing teams get a bird’s eye view of each customer journey from the starting point to the end purchase.


Attribution Example

For example, customer A and customer B are both looking for a product your company sells. Customer A converts in 1 step because they came to your website knowing what they wanted and your site was able to provide it. Easy as pie.

Customer B, however, may have a completely different experience getting to that conversion. Let’s say Customer B first clicked on your company’s display ad, then interacted with your brand on social media before visiting your company’s website from an organic search listing, downloaded an ebook and reached out via a live chat a week later before signing up for a demo of your product.

As you can see, customer B’s user journey involved several steps, or touchpoints, over a period of time.

If you only give credit to the last touchpoint before a sale, you’re missing out on all the touchpoints along the way that influenced your customer’s choice to invest in your brand. This is a perfect example of a multi-touch conversion route and is becoming the rule rather than the exception in today’s online sales conversion reality. By understanding which top-of-funnel efforts are successful, you’re able to determine which marketing efforts attract customers in the first place, and guide them deeper into the sales funnel.

Similarly, attribution models that emphasize the last touch before the conversion action give you insight into which marketing channels drive potential buyers to actually convert. If you have an idea of which touchpoint creates conversions, you can make sure to infuse those channels with the best calls to action and other purchasing prompts.

But why is it important to know about single or last touch versus multi-touch conversion routes? To save you money, that’s why.

As a marketer, you’re concerned with how and when your ad campaigns create conversion events. Attribution modeling can provide vital data about your marketing efforts, including what paid search campaigns work, what campaigns don’t, and where you should be allocating your money for optimal conversion rates at important milestones in the sales process. Attribution modeling allows marketing campaigns to stop with the throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks technique (picture tossing out every marketing strategy online and praying that something will stick), work smarter not harder, and harness the power of return on investment (ROI) data.

Check out our new multi-touch CPL feature for even more insight into campaigns.


Examples of attribution models and when to use them

With attribution models, you can zoom into a specific touchpoint to optimize that part of the sales funnel, or use multi-touch attribution models to get a sense of how your marketing affects your sales funnel as a whole.

1. First Touch Model

Also referred to as first-click attribution, this model gives all of the credit to the very first interaction your business had with a customer before they convert i.e. make a purchase. Use this model to see what catches new customer attention at the top of the funnel.

This attribution model identifies the unsung heroes of your marketing. Maybe your PPC campaigns don’t directly create sales, but they lead to the kind of awareness and engagement with future customers that does eventually generate revenue. If you only count what’s at the end of the funnel, you might cut your PPC efforts and see a drop in sales accordingly.

This attribution model is especially important for businesses that have longer sales cycles and are working to create brand advocates, rather than simply one time purchases:

First touch model attribution graph

2. Last Touch Attribution

Sometimes referred to as the Lead Creation Model, the Last Touch Model gives all of the credit to the last interaction your business had with a customer before they convert i.e. make a purchase. It is also referred to as “last-click attribution” or “last-interaction.” This model is the default on most platforms, including Google Analytics.

For example, if a customer visited a blog post you wrote before calling your company number on that page, the blog post would be their “last touch” or the touchpoint that created the raw lead.

The last touch approach has been used in marketing for a long time and is (when used by itself) starting to fade as the most effective way to analyze your marketing, especially when there are so many other touchpoints involved in a decision to buy. However, this model lets you know which marketing channels or campaigns drive your customers to action, so you can optimize on those important moments.

This model is particularly effective for understanding shorter sales cycles where the buying process is quick and the conversion action is often immediate:

Lead creation model attribution graph

3. Multi-Touch Models

Multi-touch attribution models are a rule or set of rules that allow you to view multiple touchpoints at once and get a better sense of how your marketing functions as a whole.

This is an example of a 50/50 split where credit is dispersed evenly between the first touch and the lead creation touch from the previous two models.

Some other examples of multi-touch models include the linear model, time decay, position-based, or custom rule-based models:

Multi-touch attribution graph


4. Linear Attribution

This model involves dividing the credit equally amongst all of the touchpoints in a conversion path or customer journey. If there were 3 stop-points in that conversion route, each of those points would get 33.33% of the credit for that sale.


5. Time Decay Attribution

This model is similar to the “linear attribution” model in that each of the touchpoints are ascribed some credit for a conversion, however, the most recent touchpoints are given more of the pie, and the least recent interactions get a smaller piece.


6. U-Shaped Attribution

This model (also called Position Based attribution) divvies up the credit for a conversion between a customer’s first interaction with your brand and the moment they convert to a lead, with each receiving 40%. The remaining 20% of the credit is spread out between any other interactions that happened between the first interaction and the sale.


7. W-Shaped Attribution

Credit is split evenly between the First Touch milestone, Last Touch milestone, and the Qualified milestone. Each of these touchpoint receives one-third attribution credit in this model.

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