Don’t Cut That! Choosing the Right Attribution Model

digital illustration of marketers piecing together attribution data points

Choosing the Right Attribution Model Ensures the Success of Your Marketing Strategy

In a previous blog post, we talked about the relay race concept for budget allocation as a direct reflection of how the customer journey from awareness to purchase to retention has changed. Now, let’s focus on a related budget topic important to the modern marketer: attribution. There’s a historical habit in marketing where budgets get slashed for particular media or activate campaigns if the direct correlation to revenue isn’t clear. The marketing community has become accustomed to this idea that if you can’t tie advertising dollars back to leads or sales, those dollars were wasted. This might’ve been true in the pre-digital era and even into the first couple years after the iPhone was released in 2007. That period of attribution primarily had relevance because of the limited amount of data points that could be captured, and the pathway for a customer to make a purchase or a phone call was very direct. This is not the case today.

Marketing Attribution – What Is It?

Attribution in its simplest form is something that is caused by something else, or, “because X occurred, Y was the result”—it’s essentially a technical way to sum up cause and effect. For marketing purposes, it’s most widely used to determine if advertising spend resulted in leads, phone calls, or revenue. 

Attribution and its implications on the goals of an organization are important to understand. Knowing the different kinds of attribution models across marketing tactics gives marketers a clearer picture into how certain choices affect defined growth and goals. 

Variations in Attribution Models

In recent years, Google has provided layers to the digital attribution space with the addition of multiple models available in Google Ads campaigns and Google Analytics. They’ve also started to require campaigns to utilize an attribution model other than “last-click” (now called “last interaction”) unless absolutely necessary. These different models can be grouped categorically by “last-click” and “non last-click.” 

Last-Click Attribution Models

  • Last Interaction 
    • The last touchpoint or channel receives 100% credit for the conversion. 
  • Last Non-Direct Click 
    • More specific to Google Analytics, all direct traffic is ignored, and 100% of credit for a conversion goes to the last channel the customer clicked through to the website before converting. 
  • Last Google Ads Click 
    • Specific to Google Ads, 100% of credit for a conversion is given to the last Paid Search channel. 

Last-Click models can be appropriate for specific campaigns focused on conversions where return on ad spend (ROAS) or cost per acquisition (CPA) is the primary goal. However, the limited scope of data received from these attribution models misses out on a plethora of data points that are beneficial for optimizing these campaigns and informing decisions for other marketing channels.

Non Last-Click Attribution Models

  • First Interaction 
    • 100% of credit for a conversion is given to the first touchpoint, regardless of how many followed through to reach the desired conversion. 
  • Linear
    • Each touchpoint in the path to conversion receives equal credit for the conversion. 
      • For example: A consumer clicks on a social ad, an email link, and then a paid search ad, and ultimately converts through an organic Google search. All four channels receive 25% of the credit for the conversion. This is notated by .25 conversions in Google Analytics and Ads. 
  • Time Decay 
    • The touchpoint(s) closest to the conversion receive the most of the credit for a conversion. 
      • Sticking with the consumer path above: All four channels receive a portion of the credit for the conversion. However, the organic search channel receives a larger share. Paid search receives the second-highest share, followed by email and social ads. 
  • Position Based 
    • This model applies 40% of the credit to the first and last touchpoints, and the remaining 20% is distributed evenly across the channel interactions in between. 
      • Again, same path as above: Social ads and organic search each receive 40% of the credit because they were the first and last touchpoints, respectively. Email and paid search each receive 10% for being the in-between touchpoints that helped the consumer get to a conversion. These are notated with decimals in Google Analytics and Ads. 


a simple visual illustration of each of the main types of attribution models

Non Last-Click models will provide a much more clear path to conversion, and ultimately the data should equip a marketer with more information to guide other strategy decisions. This data should also be shared with other teams to guide sales processes, product/service

improvements, customer service improvements, etc. The more you know about how a customer becomes a customer, the better you can serve them and create loyalty for your brand. 

Each of these models provides a glimpse into the performance of a campaign, ad group, or keyword (under the assumption there are appropriate conversions set up). Google also has the ability to set up custom attribution models. This would be an extreme case for a complicated conversion pathway, but it is possible to set up and compare customer attribution models in Google Analytics. 

Non-Google Attribution

These same models of attribution can be applied across other marketing media as well. When multiple types of campaigns are activated, ideally spread across the entire relay race, the need to identify effectiveness is still present. Keep in mind, though, that not every point in the funnel will carry the same weight of attribution to the conversion point. 

When an awareness or research campaign is in full delivery, the temptation to correlate those advertising dollars with conversions or revenue is very tricky and likely not a clear line. This is one of the main reasons Google has started to guide marketers away from solely applying last-click style attributions. As you develop a strategic plan and budgets, it’s important to identify not only how each channel or tactic fits in the overall plan to achieve goals, but also to be honest about how that channel’s effectiveness is going to be attributed to the end goals.

Need someone to talk to about how to implement all of this and achieve your marketing goals? We’d love to help. Reach out today and let’s chat.

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