Attribution Modeling—the Window to Customer Behavior

Eyes may be the window to a person’s soul but attribution modelling is the window to a person’s behavior as a customer.

Let’s say that I visit your company’s website for the first time after finding it via organic search. Because I am early in my buying process, I leave without making a purchase or requesting more information just yet. A couple of days later, one of your remarketing ads catches my eye and I return to your site. I realize, however, that I’m due at a meeting and leave again. This time, I return directly later in the day but am interrupted by a colleague who stops by my desk to ask a question. The following day, I receive a marketing email from you that leads me back to your site. On this visit, I convert and become your customer.

A Circuitous Route

This seemingly lengthy customer journey is the norm in today’s world. One-click conversions may be every marketer’s dream but are few marketers’ realities. The very existence of remarketing and email nurture campaigns can be considered primary proof points to this fact. There would be no need for such activities without this multi-step journey.

Once you embrace this fact, you are then faced with one very important question—to which touchpoint along my journey will you attribute the ultimate conversion? The answer? It’s your choice.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Google Analytics gives you multiple different attribution models for assigning credit for a conversion. Let’s look at the two most basic versions first as all other variations stem from them.

First Interaction

This attribution model gives 100% of the credit for a conversion to the customer’s first touchpoint. In the example of my journey to becoming your customer, that would mean organic search.

Last Interaction

In contrast to the first interaction attribution model, this option gives 100% of the credit for a conversion to the customer’s last touchpoint. Again utilizing the example above that would mean your email would be credited with my conversion.

First and last interaction attribution are relatively simple to setup and track. They also provide quick insights for “pulse” readings. Additionally, they can be highly useful when tracking mobile activity given that many mobile networks do not track impressions but only clicks.

When more detail about the full customer journey is desired, Google delivers in the form of the following attribution models:

Last AdWords Click

In this attribution model, the last click on a paid search ad receives full credit for a conversion. If there is only one such click in a particular journey, that one receives credit. If there are multiple clicks on paid ads, the last such click prior to conversion receives credit.

Last Non-Direct Click

A close relative of the last interaction model, the last touchpoint that is not a direct traffic visit receives full credit for a conversion. If my direct visit to your site had been my last one before converting, the prior visit mechanism would be credited with my conversion.

Time Decay

This attribution model acknowledges the impact of multiple touchpoints but weights the impact of each based upon the proximity to the ultimate conversion. My click-thru from your email would get the bulk of the credit for my conversion. My prior three visits would receive proportionally less credit going back in time with the first visit—from organic search—receiving the least amount of all.

Position Based

In this attribution model, first and last interactions each receive 40% billing for their work in a conversion. Any additional interactions split the remaining 20% credit equally amongst themselves. In our example, the remarketing ad and direct visit would be given 10% credit each.


All touchpoints in a customer journey share credit for a conversion equally under the linear attribution model approach.

Certainly the various multi-touchpoint attribution models give you a more comprehensive view into the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. However, these can be more complex to set up and manage and they can also give more weight to some elements than is truly appropriate.

No One Size Fits All

In the world of attribution modeling, there is no “right” or “wrong” approach. It is in my opinion a requirement to set measurable goals with each digital marketing channel before true attribution is attempted. Each attribution model offers specific benefits and you may find it useful to implement a mix of these models at different times. For example, if you want to measure the impact of one particular campaign, you may choose an attribution model that follows only that element. You can choose to do this with multiple campaigns individually and then compare them to a multi-touchpoint model.