Learn What a Marketing Attribution Model is and How to Apply it

Getting credit for your work is a rewarding feeling. It can help you reflect on what areas you’ve done well and identify what areas may need improvement. This is no different in your marketing efforts. 

Each of the unique digital marketing channels aim to drive traffic, create leads, and ultimately drive them towards a conversion. Blogs, social media posts, queries on search engines and even paid advertisements may all form a part of the buyer’s journey and their path to conversion. But, how do you decide which channel truly deserves the credit for a conversion? 

What is a marketing attribution model?

That is where marketing attribution models come in. A marketing attribution model is a method for tracking a consumer’s path through your sales funnel. These models are utilized to determine how credit for conversions can be attributed to touchpoints in conversion paths.

When you take a closer look at the analytics behind your marketing actions, you will have a better understanding of what is working well for your business, and what you may need to revisit. The challenge lies in knowing exactly what actions are responsible for your conversions. These can be difficult to track, and even more difficult to decide which actions to give credit to.

Using data like this can make a difference in your marketing efforts because you can know what works and gets people to convert. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of marketing attribution models and when to use them.

7 Types of Marketing Attribution Models

Currently, Google has seven attribution models that provide in-depth reports, so you can analyze the path a consumer took to complete a conversion. 

In order to fully understand each attribution model, we are going to use a possible conversion path as an example. Let’s say that a consumer’s conversion path is that they first complete an organic search. Then, the consumer clicks on a Google Ad. Next, they interact with a social media account that directs them to the website. Last, they type in the website’s URL and convert directly on the website. Now, let’s take a look at who gets credit using the different attribution models. 

1. Last Interaction Model

In order to fully understand each attribution model, we are going to use a possible conversion path as an example. Let’s say that a consumer’s conversion path is that they first complete an organic search. Then, the consumer clicks on a Google Ad. Next, they interact with a social media account that directs them to the website. Last, they type in the website’s URL and convert directly on the website. Now, let’s take a look at who gets credit using the different attribution models. 

When the Last Interaction Model is used, the last channel that the customer interacts with before converting will be attributed 100% of the conversion value. This model ignores the beginning, middle, and close-to-end channels of the conversion path, and gives ALL of the credit to that final channel. Here, the direct channel reaps the benefits of the other channels’ hard work. 

Our example: In our example, the direct traffic would get 100% of the credit because they were the last interaction the consumer had prior to the conversion. 

2. Last Non-Direct Click Model

In the Last Non-Direct Click model, direct traffic is ignored, and the final channel that was clicked through by the consumer, before the conversion, will be attributed 100% of the conversion value.

Direct traffic comes from users who typed the website’s URL directly into the browser. So, with this marketing attribution model, we act like direct traffic doesn’t exist and attribute 100% of the conversion value to the most recent channel, prior to the direct traffic channel. Again, ignoring the efforts of the beginning channels in the conversion path.

Our example: In our example, the social media account would get all of the credit. 

3. Last Google Ads Click Model

The Last Google Ads Click model gives 100% of the conversion value to the most recent Google Ad a user clicked before a conversion was attained. Nothing else matters. Only the last ad clicked before converting. End of story!

Our example: Using our example, the Google Ad will receive all of the credit for the conversion. 

4. First Interaction model

This is just a reverse of the Last Interaction model’s concept. Here, 100% of the conversion value will be attributed to the first channel of consumer interaction.

It ignores the middle and end channels of the conversion path, and gives ALL of the credit to that first initial channel. Now the first action reaps the benefits of the latter channels’ hard work.

Our example: By using this attribution model, the organic search will receive all of the credit for the conversion. 

5. Linear Model

In a Linear marketing attribution model, the conversion value is equally divided amongst all touchpoints in the conversion path.

This marketing attribution model believes that the conversion path was a true team effort, and gives every channel equal credit for that final conversion.

Our example: Each of the four actions the consumer took prior to the conversion will be given credit. The ad, organic search, social account and direct search are given 25% of the credit.

6. Time Decay Model

Exponential decay is the foundational concept behind this model. With a default half-life of seven days, any touchpoints that occurred seven days before a conversion will be attributed ½ the credit of a touchpoint that befell on the same day as the conversion. The exponential decay concept continues as far back as your lookback window allows.

We won’t completely ignore the efforts of the channels in the early and middle stages of the conversion path, but the closer the touchpoint is to the actual time of conversion, the higher the percentage of the conversion value that will be credited to that channel.

Our example: In this example, the majority of the credit goes to the direct search with 40%.  Then, the others get less credit, with the social channel getting 30%, the Google Ad getting 20% and the organic search getting 10%.  

7. Position Based Model

The Position Based model is a fusion of the First and Last Interaction models. It divides credit between the first and last interactions in the conversion path, with the middle interactions getting a small percentage of the credit.

The initial and final touchpoints are the roots to this conversion, so we split a high percentage of the credit between these two interactions, and divide minimal credit to the middle interactions.

Our example: The organic and direct search are each given 40% of the credit for the conversion, while the Google Ad and social post are given 20% of the credit. 

How A Marketing Attribution Model Helps Your Marketing Efforts

Over the years, the buyer’s journey has changed drastically because of technology. In the past, consumers had fewer ways to interact with brands. Maybe they would see an ad in a newspaper or on TV, but these channels were not always accessible to them. With the creation of smartphones and the internet, the consumer can interact with a brand from anywhere, day or night. This has created more channels — and opportunities — to reach them than ever before. 

Today, the average consumer can interact with your brand seven to nine times before they make any type of conversion. In order to stay relevant, marketers have had to adjust how and where they reach the consumer. By using a marketing attribution model, you can track which steps they took to come to learn about your product or service. This information helps your team choose where to allocate your marketing efforts effectively to maximize awareness (and ROI) and lead to conversions. 

Building off of the example above, let’s say a majority of our efforts are attributed to social media. Perhaps you hadn’t put too much thought into social media, and only posted when you felt the need to. However, by gaining insight into the role social media plays in converting customers, you realize the use of social media is critical to your customers’ buyer’s journey and is therefore worth the additional effort and investment. 

On the other hand, maybe you’ve put a majority of your budget towards paid search, thinking it would play an integral role in leading a customer to conversion. Studying your attribution models tells a different story! Using this information, you can decide how much time and money to allocate to each channel, allowing you to effectively create and manage your future marketing campaigns. 

How to Choose the Best Marketing Attribution Model for Your Campaign

Choosing the best marketing attribution model for your campaign is entirely up to you, and should be based around the length of your buying cycle. For example, if you have a short buying cycle, with few touch points before the conversion, a first or last interaction attribution model would work well to track your campaigns. An easy model to explain to clients is the linear attribution model, but it will not highlight what channel is doing best. You can even try different models on different campaigns to gain even more powerful insights. Remember, each has its pros and cons and it is up to you to decide which one is the best fit for your business. 

If you want to continue measuring your business’ marketing efforts effectively, the experts at Pinckney Marketing can help! We have created a step-by-step guide to teach you how to track revenue from your social ads. Download the guide below and use it to analyze your current process. Once you’ve finished, you’ll have informed insights on how to take your social ads to the next level.

This post was originally written on May 12th, 2017 and refreshed on June 26th, 2020.