Marketing Attribution Models Explained

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    Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

    A customer’s buying journey is never straightforward. That final conversion might be weeks in the making, with your customer putting in a lot of leg work beforehand. But, which channel tipped the balance into making their purchase? Unless you’re endlessly crunching numbers and trudging through acres of analytical data from multiple sources, you might never find out for sure. 

    So, getting the information you really need can seem impossible – unless you’re using a defined marketing attribution model. If you’re a marketer who needs to know which channels are generating your leads, successfully converting customers, and why, we cover what marketing attribution models are, how they work, and which model is right for you.

    What Is A Marketing Attribution Model?

    A marketing attribution model is a reporting strategy that allows you and your teams to see exactly which channels, interactions, and specific touchpoints led the customer on their journey to a conversion – whether a sale, a download, or a sign-up. 

    Attribution models show you which of these made the biggest difference or impact in deciding to convert. And, the invaluable insights will help you revise or refine any campaign to be highly targeted towards certain people for a much better ROI.

    Types Of Marketing Attribution

    An attribution model isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ marketing strategy for every marketer or campaign. Different marketing attribution approaches provide insights into which touchpoints take the credit for the conversion. Whichever attribution model you use for your campaign, it should align with your goals and the different channels you use. 

    Let’s look at the most commonly used single and multi-source attribution models and some key differences.

    First-Touch Attribution

    In a single-source attribution model, first-touch attribution gives all the value to the customer’s first interaction before converting. So, if you run a Google ad, the customer might click on it, taking them to your site. But, they may not convert there and then. When they return to make a purchase, your Google ad can claim the full value as the first-touch attribution. However, this model won’t tell you other touchpoints that may have led your customer to convert.

    Last-Touch Attribution

    As another single-source attribution model, last-touch attribution works oppositely to first-touch. So instead of the first interaction, it will tell you the last interaction before conversion. Last-touch attribution is the most common model used (Google Analytics shows last-touch data, for example). But, like first-touch attribution, last-touch won’t provide data on other customer touchpoints along their buying journey.

    Multi-Source Attribution

    Multi-source attribution models look at each touchpoint the customer has engaged with on their buying journey, which gives you a much more accurate overall picture. But, various multi-source models can give you different data depending on how they assign value, which could be equal or unequal. Multi-source attribution models can include:


    This model gives equal credit to all channels and touchpoints throughout the customer journey. It won’t identify the most effective channel but will provide an objective view of the journey.

    Time Decay

    Timing is the key factor in this model, giving you information on when the conversion is made. The closer the time between the touchpoint and conversion, the more value the touchpoint is given.


    The W-shaped model gives more value to the important first-touch, lead-creation, and last-touch channels and less value to the channels in between, giving you more accurate data where it matters. There are similar models to this, including U-shaped and Z-shaped.

    Weighted Multi-Source Attribution

    A weighted multi-source attribution is a more accurate model that considers every touchpoint and channel customers use on their buying journey. And, best of all, it will give you all the details on which channels were most effective – and which ones weren’t, allowing you to make improvements where needed. But, while it’s the most accurate model, weighted attribution can be harder to apply effectively.

    The Benefits Of Marketing Attribution

    While it might take an investment of time and money to get right, when done well, marketing attribution models can bring you a whole host of benefits to your business. If you choose a multi-source model, each touchpoint gets assigned a conversion value percentage showing you how to optimise your marketing spend and increase your ROI.

    This level of accuracy and data means you can rely on something other than click-through rates, bounce rates, or other metrics to judge the performance of your campaigns. Attribution models can help you understand your customers and their needs more comprehensively, allowing you to tweak personalisation and brand messaging.

    Limitations Of Marketing Attribution Models

    While marketing attribution modelling has plenty of benefits and uses, naturally, it has a few limitations too. For example, you can’t account for conversions with no touchpoints assigned to them, such as when someone buys from you through word of mouth without any influence on your part. 

    Or an early touchpoint in the journey, which might look insignificant, could be the main reason for converting much later. So, if you ignore what you think is an insignificant early touchpoint, you might underestimate the effectiveness of an interaction which could have been crucial. 

    So, without understanding the limitations of marketing attribution models, they can often be labelled as inaccurate or provide insufficient data when making an essential marketing investment.

    Why Is Attribution Modelling Important?

    Attribution modelling is vital to measuring your online campaigns and their success. Assigned values give you accurate data to understand which touchpoints or channels work best for you and deliver the value you need for your bottom line. 

    Without attribution modelling in place, you can’t accurately gauge which channels are getting your customer to conversion or whether your ROI is worth it or not. With modelling in place, you can assign value to every touchpoint and channel along the way with enough accuracy to help you analyse all your incoming traffic and make informed decisions.

    Choosing The Right Attribution Model For You

    There’s a wide range of marketing attribution models, each offering something different, and knowing which is best for your business, your campaign, and your preferred channels is crucial. If most of your campaigns rely on a single channel, then there’s no benefit to using a multi-source model. Conversely, a single-source model won’t give you enough detail if you use multiple touchpoints and channels along your customer’s buying journey, especially over a more extended campaign period. 

    Whether you choose a single or multi-source attribution model, it must be a natural fit for your business and your campaign goals. And, it should give you the level of assigned value accuracy needed to measure the campaign’s success and your ROI.

    Marketing Attribution With Improve Position

    As you look into more channels and marketing techniques to increase your business revenue, marketing attribution models can certainly give you next-level data to provide the best outcome for your campaign and increase conversions.

    As a results-driven SEO agency, Improve Position can help improve your campaigns with marketing attribution. If you want to get started or need help discovering which model best suits your needs, contact us today to get started and take a big step towards more accurate campaign measuring.

    About the author

    Michael is the founder and managing director of Improve Position with a strong background in both web development and technical SEO. His enthusiasm shines through with his passion to help others understand and succeed in the world of online business marketing.

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