How do you know if your content is actually driving revenue?

Better still, how do you know which PIECE of content is actually driving revenue?

Enter attribution models.

Attribution models assign a value to various touch points a lead had with your company before converting. For content marketing, this means understanding the blog posts, white papers, social content or another type of content that a person engaged with before becoming a lead and ultimately a customer.

For the sports fans out there, you can think of content attribution as a way to credit the assist (or even the second assist).

But here’s the hard part.

How do you assign a value to all your different content and campaigns? How much weight does social content carry? Is the first touch point, the lead creation touch point, or the conversion point more important? Should everything have an equal value, or do the most recent interactions matter most?

This article aims to help marketing directors understand the challenges of content attribution, why it matters, and which model best suits your business.

What is Marketing Attribution?

As marketers, we’re all familiar with the buyer journey. At the top of the funnel a prospect has never even heard of your company – by the end of the journey they know and trust your company so much they’re ready to do business with you.

But how do you know when someone first learned of your company? On the flip side, which piece of content motivated them to convert? And what happened in between these two touch points?

Without marketing attribution, it’s incredibly difficult to answer these questions.

Most attribution models focus on 3 key touch points:

  • First touch. The first time a prospect interacted with your company
  • Lead creation. The conversion point where a prospect becomes a lead (newsletter, content upgrade, free trial, etc.)
  • Conversion. The conversion point where a lead become a customer (purchase, sign up, etc.)

You’re investing a lot of time, energy, and resources into various campaigns so it’s imperative that you know exactly how much value these campaigns return. And doing so will allow you to identify and scale the areas you’re having success while trimming any budget-wasting campaigns.

So rather than saying “I think our Facebook ads have done well, they’ve earned over 1,000 clicks!”, you can say “Our Facebook ads are great, they’ve generated five new customers for over $1,000 in revenue this month!”

Why Does Content Marketing Attribution Matter?

Most marketing teams at established companies have numerous campaigns happening at any given time and countless campaigns over the course of a year. So how do you know which campaigns and which channels were most successful?

Marketing attribution provides marketing teams with a framework to calculate the ROI of various campaigns to see which campaigns are winners and which are duds.

There are lots of other stats that support the importance of marketing attribution as well.

  • 67% of shoppers regularly use more than one channel to make purchases
  • 9.5 is the number of visits to a retailer’s site before a shopper decides to buy

However, one of the toughest parts with marketing attribution is knowing which model to use. So with that in mind, next we’ll look at the most common models and when to use them.

Single-Touch Attribution Models

The simplest type of model is a single-touch. Here we’re assigning 100% of the conversion value to a single touch point. Naturally, we have two main types of single-touch models: first-touch and last-touch.


Just like it sounds, this model gives 100% of the weight to the first touch-point that created a lead. For example, perhaps a lead filled out a blog form or downloaded an ebook. In this case, that blog form or ebook getting 100% of the credit for the conversion.


Last-touch focuses not on the lead creation, but the actual sale. If someone subscribes to a blog newsletter but doesn’t convert into a customer until they watch a webinar a couple of weeks later, then the webinar gets 100% of the credit.

When to Use Single Touch Models

While it’s easy to write these models off as overly simplistic (which is true), they are still very useful in their own right.

Single-touch models make sense for companies with a very short sales cycle. It can also be useful to evaluate the effectiveness of your top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel content. For example, how much demand does your TOFU content generate? What about BOFU content? If it isn’t producing any leads, then you may want to revisit and improve those articles.

Multi-Touch Attribution Models

Taking these models one step further, we have multi-touch attribution models. While the name is fairly self-explanatory, these models are ideal for companies that use multiple marketing channels or have a slightly longer sales cycle.

Linear Attribution Models

Linear attribution models are just slightly more complicated than single-touch models. In this, we’re assigning equal weight to all our content and touchpoints. The advantage of this model is that it is still relatively easy to calculate while still capturing more information than single-touch models.

Time-Decay Multi-Touch Model

One of the most common types of multi-touch models is called the time decay model. In this case, you assign the most weight to the most recent integration a lead had before converting, with a descending weight to each interaction that preceded it.

U-Shaped Model

A U-Shaped model assigns the most weight to the first and last touch, and every interaction in-between shares a small, equal portion of the credit. The image assigns 40% of the value to the first and last touch with every point in between sharing the remaining 20% evenly, but you can tweak this to better suit your company.

When to Use Multi-Touch Models

The main benefit of multi-touch attribution models is that you can capture all the interactions a person had with your company before becoming a lead and ultimately converting.

While there are some cases where a single-touch model does a good enough job, most companies will rely on a multi-touch model.

Companies with a longer sales cycle (more than few months), multiple marketing channels, or lots of campaigns should absolutely use one of these models. The time decay model is also a good way to look at the effectiveness of a timed promotional campaign because it devalues the first parts of the campaign which didn’t result in a conversion.

Account-based Attribution Models

Depending on your industry, you may be focused on account-based marketing. In this case, lead interactions are grouped at the account level, and interactions with content are counted toward the final conversion.

Here the weight is based more on the leads role and position in a company. So, if both a director and an intern at XYZ Corp. both interact with your content, they are weighted differently.

Algorithmic Attribution Models

Algorithmic attribution models are the most complicated attribution model and are unique to each business. This model requires some fairly sophisticated software, so it’s limited to those companies that can afford it.

Choosing the Right Model

It’s difficult to know definitively which model is best for your company.

In fact, just 22% of marketers say they believe they’re using the right attribution model – with 43% saying they believe their company is using the wrong model and 35% unsure.

If you’re undecided between a few of the different models, answering these questions will help you come to a decision.

How long is the average sales cycle?

If you have a longer sales cycle, then single touch models can’t tell you a whole story. If your sales cycle is anything longer than a month or two, then I’d recommend a multi-touch model.

What the average number of touch points before conversion?

Mo’ touch points, mo’ complicated attribution models.

How many marketing channels are you active on?

The number of channels you’re active on will also play a role here. If you’re on 3 or more channels (which most companies are), then single-touch models won’t cut it.

Measuring Your Content Marketing Attribution

This biggest drawback to marketing attribution is that its complicated and requires an up-front investment into setting up the tools, tracking, and reports necessary to follow prospects throughout the entire journey from discovery to conversion.

That said, having a robust attribution model can give you access to some incredibly valuable data. Known which campaigns are performing well and which aren’t will help you better utilize your marketing budget while increasing growth.

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