When a client approaches your agency to ramp up conversions, you’ll need an appropriate way to analyze the success of their marketing channels. That’s where marketing attribution models comes in. Different attribution models factor in the customer journey's various touchpoints, so you’ll have an objective view of which marketing channels led to the most conversions.
But with so many touchpoints and attribution models to choose from, it may be challenging to decide on a way forward. For instance, a customer may find your client’s blog post and later return to their website from an email marketing campaign. After they’ve converted, which marketing channel gets the credit?
It depends on several factors, and we’re here to break it down for your agency. Read on to learn about:
How To Choose the Right Marketing Attribution Model for Your Client
Let’s get into it.
What Are Marketing Attribution Models?
Simply put, attribution modeling is a framework for analyzing which touchpoints or marketing channels should receive credit for a conversion.
At the core of marketing attribution is the idea that marketing efforts should be carefully tracked and analyzed to understand how different activities contribute to overall success.
Attributing success to specific marketing efforts via "marketing attribution models" is an important part of this process. It allows marketers to identify which strategies are most effective at driving short-term and long-term conversions.
To paraphrase an old saying, if a click takes place today but nobody converts until 3 weeks later, does anyone know what drove that sale?
That answer can change based on the type of attribution model used for client campaigns. Some attribution models may focus on the latter part of the sales funnel, while others credit earlier marketing channels for conversion.
Why Are Attribution Models Important in Marketing?
After your client has invested time and money into various marketing efforts, they’ll want to know which ones generated the highest ROI for their businesses.
Was it the SEO fixes to their website that resulted in higher website clicks and conversions? Or perhaps it was a combination of retargeting ads and email marketing campaigns.
Regardless of the case, your agency must know which marketing channels produced the highest conversions to make recommendations for future campaigns.
In a nutshell, attribution will help your agency to determine:
Which marketing channels led to the highest number of conversions
How to re-distribute or increase ad spend
Any improvements or recommendations for future client campaigns
Any gaps in the customer journey
Common Mistakes With Marketing Attribution
One of the most common mistakes marketers make is not accounting for the touchpoints that lead to conversions.
Certain activities, such as remarketing or email marketing, may be overlooked when measuring marketing success based on the first click. Conversely, top-of-the-funnel activities such as content marketing could be scaled down if the ROI is only calculated based on the last click.
Another mistake related to marketing attribution is failing to consider the impact of multiple marketing channels and sources simultaneously.
By looking at only one channel in isolation, marketers may overlook synergies between different marketing efforts. This means that they won't be able to accurately assess which channels are contributing the most conversions or revenue and adjust their spending accordingly.
Overall, it's important for marketers to understand how marketing attribution works and utilize best practices in order to ensure accurate metrics and insights when evaluating results. By doing this, they can ensure that their budgets are being allocated effectively and their marketing strategies are working as intended.
What Are the Different Types of Attribution Models?
Knowledge is power, and knowing the different types of attribution models will help your agency choose the right option. There are six distinct models to consider:
Let’s explore each marketing attribution model further.
1. First Interaction Attribution
In this marketing attribution model, 100% of the conversion credit is assigned to the first marketing channel a customer interacts with.
For instance, if a customer first finds your client’s business on Pinterest, then Pinterest gets all of the credit for any sale after that interaction.
And it doesn’t matter if this customer clicked on a Facebook Ad a week later and eventually went to your client’s website. In the First Interaction Attribution Model, Pinterest will still get 100% of the conversion credit.
Pros & Cons of First Interaction Attribution
Like all marketing attribution models, there are key advantages and disadvantages to explore.
Simple and straightforward
Ignores the effects of other marketing channels after the initial touchpoint (e.g., retargeting Google Ads)
Works well for businesses with short buying cycles
May result in inaccurate recommendations for future marketing campaigns
This marketing attribution model is helpful if your client tends to convert customers immediately. In this case, the first touchpoint is especially important.
If your client’s goal is to bring in new top-of-the-funnel customers, the First Interaction Attribution Model is a great way to evaluate the effectiveness of each channel. It’s also a great measure of which channels worked best for brand awareness.
2. Last Interaction Attribution
As the name implies, the Last Interaction Attribution model gives 100% of the credit to a customer's last interaction with your client’s business before converting. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘last-click’ or ‘last-touch.’
Let’s take an example. Say a customer finds your client’s Facebook page after doing research on social media. A week later, they clicked on one of your client’s Instagram ads and ended up on the website. They haven’t decided to convert, but they’re aware of your client’s brand at this point.
After a week of deliberation, the customer searches for your client’s brand name and completes an online transaction. In this scenario, the branded search touchpoint (i.e., the customer using search terms to find your client’s website) will get 100% of the conversion credit.
It’s worth mentioning that this is the default attribution in most platforms, including Google Analytics. This means that if you’re looking at a standard Google Analytics report, each conversion goal is attributed to a customer’s last interaction with your client’s business.
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Pros & Cons of Last Interaction Attribution
Wondering if this is the best marketing attribution model for your client? Let’s explore below.
Similar to the First Attribution Model, it’s also easy to implement and evaluate
Doesn’t consider the impact of preceding marketing efforts
Removes ambiguity–explicitly defines a customer’s last touchpoint before conversion
May overestimate the ROI of a customer’s last touchpoint, such as branded search campaigns
Digital marketing today is scattered. People may access your client’s website from multiple devices or browsers. This makes it challenging to track the entire customer journey.
However, with the Last Interaction Attribution Model, you can always be sure of a customer’s last interaction with your client’s brand before converting.
Similar to the First Attribution Model, this is a good option if your client has a short buying cycle (i.e., not many touchpoints before converting). As such, tracking the last point of interaction will be a good–albeit limited–gauge of your client’s most effective marketing channel when it comes to driving conversions.
3. Last Non-Direct Click
In this marketing attribution model, 100% of the conversion credit is assigned to a single interaction (similar to the options we explored above). However, this model eliminates any “direct” interactions that occur right before a customer converts.
Let’s take an example. Say a customer first learns about your client’s website after clicking on a LinkedIn ad. They sign up for your client’s mailing list and begin receiving newsletters, clicking on a few interesting links.
This customer continues to engage with your client’s newsletters for a while. A few weeks later, they go straight to your client’s website and proceed with a conversion.
Instead of attributing the conversion credit to direct traffic (i.e., the customer going directly to your client’s website), the last non-click attribution model will assign this value to the e-mail marketing touchpoint.
And so, this marketing attribution model considers which channel prompted a customer to visit your client’s website directly.
Pros & Cons of the Last Non-Direct Click Model
While this marketing attribution model has a different approach from the previous two options, there are a few things to consider.
Provides more insight into which marketing channels led to a conversion
Ignores the impact of touchpoints before the last non-direct click
An opportunity to leverage the marketing channel most used by warm leads
Doesn’t pinpoint where a customer initially learned about your client’s brand
As mentioned above, eliminating direct clicks makes this a unique and insightful marketing attribution model.
The last non-direct click model works well if customers tend to convert right away when directly visiting your client’s website. By knowing which marketing channel influenced the conversion decision, you’ll be better equipped to optimize content and capitalize on this opportunity.
4. Linear Attribution
With a linear attribution model, conversion credit is split equally between all brand touchpoints.
Let’s use our previous example. A customer finds your client on social media and signs up for their mailing list. Later, this customer went directly to your client’s website and successfully made a $120 online purchase.
There are three touchpoints in this scenario. Numerically speaking, each touchpoint gets an equal conversion credit of 33% and a conversion value of $40.
Pros & Cons of Linear Attribution
Linear attribution gives a more balanced insight into your client’s marketing strategy than a single-event attribution model. However, there are pros and cons to consider.
Quantifies the impact of each marketing channel
May under or overestimate the influence of a marketing channel
Straightforward way to explain the ROI of each marketing channel to your clients
Difficult to determine which marketing channel has the best performance and conversion potential
If you’re looking for a simplistic way to explain the impact of your client’s marketing channels, then this is a good option. It also doesn’t depend on complex metrics or analytics, which could work well if your client is in the beginning stages of starting a business.
However, it also means assigning equal importance to all marketing channels. As a result, this model may not lead to the most effective marketing strategies.
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5. Time Decay Attribution
Similar to the previous model, time decay attribution spreads conversion credit across multiple events. However, this marketing attribution model considers when each brand interaction occurred.
It also assigns higher conversion credit to later touchpoints. This means the first interaction gets less credit, while the last interaction will get the most.
Pros & Cons of Time Decay Attribution
Wondering whether a Time Decay Attribution Model is the best fit for your client? Here’s what your agency should consider.
Works well for clients with businesses heavily dependent on relationship-building
Not as effective for businesses with shorter sales cycles
Useful for optimizing your client’s most influential touchpoints right before conversion
May not correctly assign conversion credit to earlier marketing touchpoints
The time decay attribution model will work well for your clients with more expensive product offerings and longer sales cycles.
6. Position-Based Attribution
The position-based attribution model (also called U-shaped attribution) distributes conversion credit in the following ways:
A customer’s first touchpoint (40%)
A customer’s last touchpoint before conversion (40%)
Any other brand touchpoints that happened in between the above stages (20%)
For example, say a customer discovers your client’s website through a Google search. They later view your client’s Facebook page and eventually sign up to receive email marketing. Following this, the customer follows through on a conversion action by clicking on a newsletter CTA.
In this case, the initial website visit from the Google search and e-mail marketing sign-up each receive 40% conversion credit. The in-between touchpoint (i.e., Facebook page visit) receives the remaining 20% conversion credit.
Pros & Cons of Position-Based Attribution
If you’re leaning towards this option, here are a few advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Works well for businesses with multiple touchpoints before a conversion
May underestimate the impact of marketing efforts between the first and last touchpoints
Assigns conversion credit to all marketing touchpoints
If there are many marketing efforts in between the first and last touchpoints, conversion credit may be spread too thin
Position-based attribution is a robust model for businesses that have multiple touchpoints before a conversion.
As we’ve outlined, this attribution model gives at least some credit to every interaction. This means it’s a good option for businesses with brand awareness and conversion goals. It also factors in the influence of other touchpoints, which will give a more accurate picture.
7. Custom Attribution Models
Does your client have a pre-determined weight or valuation for each touchpoint, or perhaps a specific sales funnel to evaluate?
Consider using a custom attribution model in this case. As the name suggests, this marketing attribution model is fully customizable based on your client’s goals and insights.
For example, say you’ve got a client with a long-standing business and a database of historical trends. With such data-driven insight into the buying cycle, they’d be in a better position to set custom goals and understand the performance of their marketing channels over time.
In this case, a custom attribution model will provide accurate insights into their marketing strategies.
Pros & Cons of Custom Attribution Models
Last but not least, let’s explore the pros and cons of custom attribution models.
Provides the most intricate look at which channels bring in the most conversions
May be challenging or complex to create
Fully customizable based on your client’s needs
Requires an extensive amount of data for accurate estimates
Wondering if this attribution model is the best fit for your client? Use a custom attribution model if your client’s business has a long buying cycle and a wealth of data insights.
How To Choose the Right Attribution Model for Your Clients
There isn't necessarily a "best" attribution model. Depending on the scenario, one attribution model could be adequate for your client’s needs. However, there may be scenarios where it’s useful to compare performance under more than one attribution model.
For example, your agency may decide on a primary attribution model for reporting and analysis. On the other hand, another attribution model may provide more insight into overlooked details (which could be worth mentioning when it comes to campaign optimization. It all boils down to your client’s goals, sales cycles, and unique needs.
And as your client’s business evolves, you may even switch attribution models. So remember to stay adaptable and don’t feel inclined to stick to just one.
If you’re deciding on an attribution model for the first time, consider the following questions:
How many stages are there in my client’s sales funnel?
How many marketing touchpoints are there?
What are my client’s goals (e.g., brand awareness, conversions)?
What are my client’s expectations (e.g., optimizing well-performing marketing channels, fixing gaps in the customer journey)?
By having a thorough understanding of what your client is looking for, you’ll be better equipped to choose the most appropriate marketing attribution model.
How To Find Attribution Model Reports in Google Analytics
As we mentioned earlier, Google Analytics uses last-interaction attribution by default.
However, you’ll have the option to compare different attribution models in your account. To do this:
Log into your client’s Google Analytics account.
Click on the Model Comparison Tool under "Attribution" on the left-hand side of your account.
By comparing each model, you’ll see the value each channel delivers under different attribution models.
If you’re customizing your clients’ links with UTM codes, click "Source" to see the value assigned to each source being tracked.
By looking at more than one attribution model, you’ll understand the value of all marketing channels that led to conversions.
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Marketing Attribution Model Infographic
Attribution models are complex to use and understand. To help simplify it, we created an infographic for your agency to reference when needed.
Summary and Key Takeaways
Attribution models help your agency understand the impact of a client’s marketing channels. Using an attribution model will lead to more informed decisions, from optimizing a well-performing marketing channel to identifying any gaps in the customer journey. In summary, remember to:
Evaluate your client’s sales funnel and marketing touchpoints
Choose a marketing attribution model that most aligns with your client’s goals
Make data-informed recommendations but also communicate any limitations
That way, you’ll steer your clients toward marketing success while also demonstrating your agency’s ROI.
Even after you’ve decided on a marketing attribution model, you’ll need a sustainable way to track your clients’ data and continue to provide insightful recommendations.
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Peter Foy is a content marketer with a focus on SaaS companies. Based in Toronto, when he’s not writing he’s usually studying data science and machine learning.Read more posts by Peter Foy ›