If you struggle to understand which marketing efforts contribute to your organisation’s success, you’re researching the correct solution.
Every marketer’s dream is to get customers to purchase something the first time they click on your site.
The reality is that most customers need multiple interactions with a brand before they finally hit the checkout button. So, how do you determine what convinced someone to buy so you can double down on your marketing efforts?
The solution is marketing attribution.
Marketing attribution models allow you to understand the users’ paths to conversion better and identify key channels and marketing assets that assist them.
That said, each attribution model has inherent limitations, which make the selection process even harder.
In this guide, we’ll explain how to choose the optimal marketing attribution model. We cover the pros and cons of popular attribution models, main evaluation criteria, and how-to instructions for model implementation.
What is marketing attribution?
Marketing attribution is a set of marketing models that look at a conversion’s value based on multiple factors rather than a single touchpoint. This could include a variety of touchpoints like social media, organic search, paid ads, email marketing, SMS marketing, or other channels customers may use on their path to conversion with a company.
Brands can use marketing attribution to determine which marketing campaigns or channels lead to conversions. As you break down the impact of each touchpoint’s role in the customer journey, you can allocate resources appropriately to optimise your marketing strategy.
Within marketing attribution, there are several sub-models that you can use depending on your business’s specific goals and strategies.
Marketing or multi-touch attribution is a specific method of determining the top channels used to impact conversion. It aims to judge how successful each marketing channel is concerning the objectives being reached.
In times past, marketers have relied primarily on single-touch attribution, which usually only gives credit to a single channel — typically the last touchpoint before a conversion.
Rather than giving credit to a single touchpoint (i.e., paid ads), marketing attribution looks at the bigger picture, analysing every touchpoint a customer had that led to a sale or other conversion.
The goal of relying on marketing attribution is to optimise your marketing efforts and budgets to focus on the marketing channels with the greatest impact on your marketing outcomes.
The ultimate goal of using marketing attribution is to optimise the allocation of your marketing spend to focus on the channels that have the most influential impact on your business outcomes.
This holistic approach to attribution is part of the reason why 3 out of every 4 marketers rely on marketing attribution to measure marketing performance.
Single-touch vs. marketing attribution
So, what exactly is marketing attribution compared to single-touch attribution? After all, both of these attribution methods aim to give credit to a marketing channel or campaign when a conversion is achieved.
First, let’s take a look at single-touch attribution.
Simply put, single-touch attribution gives credit to the conversion from one touchpoint. This is often the last touchpoint a customer makes within your sales funnel before they finally click buy or join your email list, for instance.
For example, if someone in your audience clicked on a Facebook ad and made a purchase a few minutes later, you would give the Facebook ad 100% of the credit for the conversion.
Single-touch attribution makes a lot of sense. It’s the last touchpoint before a conversion, which means it was the most impactful, significant and persuasive, right?
Well, that isn’t always the case.
In fact, the average consumer requires eight touchpoints with a brand before they make a purchase.
So, what does that tell you?
It means a single touchpoint doesn’t hold as much power as the ability to offer continuous touchpoints from your customers. This, in turn, means that conversions are occurring due to multiple brand efforts — including different campaigns and marketing channels.
So, how does marketing attribution compare to single touch?
Well, we’re now living in an omnichannel world.
One hundred years ago, brands used the radio to reach out to customers. Fifty years ago, TV was added to the mix.
Fast forward to today. Now, how do brands reach their audience? With TV, radio, paid ads, social media, search engines, email marketing, SMS marketing, apps, push notifications, and more.
Due to the expansive variety of digital channels, it’s unfair to attribute conversions to a single touchpoint and not as accurate.
Marketing attribution leans on the fact that we live in this omnichannel experience, where we’re interacting with brands in a variety of ways. It looks to spread attribution across multiple touchpoints for a more comprehensive analysis of your marketing efforts.
Example of marketing attribution
Curious how marketing attribution works in real life?
Picture you own a premium dog collar company. You launched a few years ago and have set up a variety of marketing channels and campaigns to attract and convert customers.
Day 1: Consumer X is scrolling through TikTok, and they see a funny video of a labradoodle wearing sunglasses and dancing while sporting a fancy, gem-studded dog collar.
Consumer X clicks like on the video and follows your brand on TikTok.
Day 2: Consumer X is checking their Instagram, and they land on their feed where they find user-generated content of a dog owner talking about how durable and beautiful your dog collars are. They’re an Instagram influencer who got paid to talk about the collars, and Consumer X clicks on their page and follows them.
Day 3: Consumer X opens Instagram at lunchtime and sees another ad for the dog collars, but this time, it’s a branded video directly from your company. They click on the ad, leading them to a landing page on your website with a week-long sale offering 20% off. They don’t buy but join your email and SMS list to secure the discount code.
Day 4: Consumer X opens their email inbox at work and sees the email for the discount code from your company. They open the email and see the discount code and a link to Google reviews for the dog collars. They check out the Google reviews, which show an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars from 2,157 customers.
Day 5: Consumer X receives a welcome email from your company highlighting the different dog collars, your mission, a few reviews, and a link to 3 of the top blog posts. They click on the blog post link and read about how to make your dog collars last seven times longer.
Day 6: Consumer X notices their labradoodle’s dog collar is breaking down a bit. They remember your blog post on how to make them last longer but don’t remember the exact tips. So they type your brand name into Google and “how to make collar last longer.” Once the search results appear, a Google ad pops up for the weeklong sale, which says: “1 Day Left – Get 20% Off & Free Shipping.” Consumer X clicks the ad to check out the deal, forgetting about how they were looking up tips to make their dog’s collar last longer. They check out a collar they like for $75 before the discount. They really want it but are still undecided, so they make dinner and think about it.
Day 7: Consumer X receives an SMS in the morning stating it’s the last day of the sale and the last chance to get 20% off and free shipping on their order. They go to the site, plug in their discount code, and purchase the dog collar.
Single touch attribution would state that the SMS message gets 100% of the credit for the conversion.
Marketing attribution would state that a variety of factors influenced the buying decision:
- TikTok organic social media
- Instagram influencer marketing
- Instagram ads
- Email marketing
- Paid search
- SMS marketing
In the case of single-touch attribution, a marketer would look at SMS and believe they need to pour way more money into the channel since it was the one that led to a sale. However, with marketing attribution, you can see that a handful of channels are working for you and require more resources to optimise your marketing efforts.
Pros and cons of different attribution models
First Interaction attribution model (also known as first touch) assigns full credit to the conversion to the first channel, which brought in a lead. However, it doesn’t report other interactions the visitor had before converting.
Marketers primarily focused on demand generation and user acquisition find the first touch attribution model useful to evaluate and optimise top-of-the-funnel (ToFU).
- Reflects the start of the customer journey
- Shows channels that bring in the best-qualified leads
- Helps track brand awareness campaigns
- Ignores the impact of later interactions at the middle and bottom of the funnel
- Doesn’t provide a full picture of users’ decision-making process
Last Interaction attribution model (last touch) shifts the entire credit allocation to the last channel before conversion. But it doesn’t account for the contribution of all other channels.
If your focus is conversion optimisation, the last-touch model helps determine which channels, assets or campaigns seal the deal for the prospect.
- Reports bottom-of-the-funnel events
- Requires minimal data and configurations
- Helps estimate cost-per-lead or cost-per-acquisition
- No visibility into assisted conversions and prior visitor interactions
- Overemphasise the importance of the last channel (which can often be direct traffic)
Last non-direct interaction
Last non-direct attribution excludes direct traffic from the calculation and assigns the full conversion credit to the preceding channel. For example, a paid ad will receive 100% credit for conversion if a visitor goes directly to your website to buy a product.
Last non-direct attribution provides greater clarity into the bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFU) events. Yet, it still under-reports the role other channels played in conversion.
- Improved channel visibility, compared to Last-Touch
- Avoids over-valuing direct visits
- Reports on lead-generation efforts
- Doesn’t work for account-based marketing (ABM)
- Devalues the quality over quantity of leads
Linear attribution model assigns equal credit for a conversion to all tracked touchpoints, regardless of their impact on the visitor’s decision to convert.
It helps you understand the entire conversion path. But this model doesn’t distinguish between the importance of lead generation activities versus nurturing touches.
- Focuses on all touch points associated with a conversion
- Reflects more steps in the customer journey
- Helps analyse longer sales cycles
- Doesn’t accurately reflect the varying roles of each touchpoint
- Can dilute the credit if too many touchpoints are involved
Time decay model
Time decay models assume that the closer a touchpoint is to the conversion, the greater its influence. Pre-conversion touchpoints get the highest credit, while the first ones are ranked lower (5%-5%-10%-15%-25%-30%).
This model better reflects real-life customer journeys. However, it devalues the impact of brand awareness and demand-generation campaigns.
- Helps track longer sales cycles and reports on each touchpoint involved
- Allows customising the half-life of decay to improve reporting
- Promotes conversion optimisation at BoFu stages
- Can prompt marketers to curtail ToFU spending, which would translate to fewer qualified leads at lower stages
- Doesn’t reflect highly influential events at earlier stages (e.g., a product demo request or free account registration, which didn’t immediately lead to conversion)
Position-based attribution model (the U-shaped model) allocates the biggest credit to the first and the last interaction (40% each). Then it distributes the remaining 20% across other touches.
For many marketers, that’s the preferred marketing attribution model as it allows optimising both ToFU and BoFU channels.
- Helps establish the main channels for lead generation and conversion
- Adds extra layers of visibility, compared to first- and last-touch attribution models
- Promotes budget allocation toward the most strategic touchpoints
- Diminishes the importance of lead nurturing activities as more credit gets assigned to demand-gen and conversion-generation channels
- Limited flexibility since it always assigns a fixed amount of credit to the first and last touchpoints and the remaining credit is divided evenly among the other touchpoints
How to choose the right marketing attribution model for your business
If you’re deciding which attribution model is best for your business, prepare for a heated discussion. Each one has its trade-offs as it emphasises or devalues the role of different channels and marketing activities.
To reach a consensus, the best strategy is to evaluate each model against three criteria: your marketing objectives, sales cycle length and data availability.
Businesses generate revenue in many ways: Through direct sales, subscriptions, referral fees, licensing agreements and one-off or retainer services. Or any combination of these activities.
In each case, your marketing strategy will look different. For example, SaaS and direct-to-consumer (DTC) eCommerce brands have to maximise both demand generation and conversion rates. In contrast, a B2B cybersecurity consulting firm is more interested in attracting qualified leads (as opposed to any type of traffic) and progressively nurturing them toward a big-ticket purchase.
When selecting a marketing attribution model, prioritise your objectives first. Create a simple scoreboard where your team ranks various channels and campaign types you rely on to close sales.
Alternatively, you can survey your customers to learn how they first heard about your company and what eventually triggered their conversion. Data from both sides can help you cross-validate your assumptions and eliminate biases.
Then, consider which model would best reflect the role and importance of different channels in your sales cycle.
Sales cycle length
As shoppers, we spend less time deciding on a new toothpaste brand versus contemplating a new IT system purchase. Factors like industry, business model (B2C, DTC, B2B, B2BC), and deal size determine the average cycle length in your industry.
Statistically, low-ticket B2C sales can happen within just several interactions. The average B2B decision-making process can have over 15 steps over several months.
That’s why not all marketing attribution models work equally well for each business. Time-decay suits better B2B companies, while B2C usually go for position-based or linear attribution.
Businesses struggle with marketing attribution model implementation due to incomplete analytics data.
Our web analytics tool captures more data than Google Analytics. That’s because we rely on a privacy-focused tracking mechanism, allowing you to collect analytics without showing a cookie consent banner in markets outside Germany and the UK.
Cookie consent banners are mandatory with Google Analytics. Yet, almost 40% of global consumers reject it. This results in gaps in your analytics and subsequent inconsistencies in marketing attribution reports. With Matomo, you can compliantly collect more data for accurate reporting.
Some companies also struggle to connect collected insights to individual shoppers. With Matomo, you can cross-attribute users across browning sessions using our visitors’ tracking feature.
When you know a user’s identifier (e.g., full name or email address), you can track their on-site behaviours over time to better understand how they interact with your content and complete their purchases. However, visitors’ tracking may not be considered compliant with certain data privacy laws. Please consult with a local authority if you have doubts.
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How to implement marketing attribution
Marketing attribution implementation is like a “seek and find” game. You have to identify all significant touchpoints in your customers’ journeys and sometimes brainstorm new ways to uncover the missing parts. Then, figure out the best way to track users’ actions at those stages (like goal and event tracking).
Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough to help you get started.
Select a marketing attribution tool
The global marketing attribution software is worth $3.1 billion. There are plenty of tools differing in accuracy, sophistication and price.
To make the right call, prioritise five factors:
- Available models: Look for a solution that offers multiple attribution model options and allows you to experiment with different techniques or develop custom models.
- Implementation complexity: Some providers offer advanced data modelling tools for creating custom marketing attribution models but offer few out-of-the-box modelling options.
- Accuracy: Check if the shortlisted tool collects the type of data you need. Prioritise providers who are less dependent on third-party cookies and allow you to identify repeat users.
- Your marketing stack: Some tools, like Matomo for instance, extend beyond marketing attribution to include tag managers, heatmaps, form analytics, session recordings, and A/B testing. This broadens your marketing capabilities, enabling not just attribution, but also insights into user behaviour and effective conversion rate optimisation.
- Compliance: Ensure that the selected marketing attribution analytics software won’t put you at risk of GDPR non-compliance regarding user privacy and consent to tracking/analysis.
Finally, evaluate the adoption costs. While free marketing attribution tools such as Google Analytics exist, they often entail trade-offs in data quality and consistency. Premium attribution tools may have “hidden” licensing costs and bill you for extra data integrations.
Look for a tool that offers a good price-to-value ratio (i.e., one that offers extra perks for a transparent price). Matomo’s pricing is a good starting place in your search.
Set up proper data collection
Marketing attribution requires ample user data. To collect the right type of insights, you need to set up the following:
- Website analytics: Ensure you have all tracking codes installed (and working correctly!) to capture page views, on-site actions, referral sources and other data points around what users do on a page.
- Campaign tracking URLs: Add tracking parameters to your URLs to monitor different referral channels (e.g., “Facebook”), campaign types (e.g., ”final-sale”), and creative assets (e.g., “banner-1”). Campaign tracking parameters help you get a clearer picture of different touchpoints. You can use a campaign tracking URL builder to speed up this process.
- Integrations: To better identify on-site users and track their actions, you can populate your attribution tool with data from your other tools – CRM system, A/B testing app, etc.
Finally, think about the ideal lookback window — a bounded time frame you’ll use to calculate conversions. For example, Matomo has a default window of 7, 30 or 90 days. But you can configure a custom period to reflect your average sales cycle better. For instance, a shorter window could yield better results if you’re selling makeup. But if you’re selling CRM software for the manufacturing industry, consider extending it.
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Configure goals and events
Goals indicate your main marketing objectives — more traffic, conversions, and sales. In web analytics tools, you can measure these by tracking specific user behaviours.
For example: If your goal is lead generation, you can track:
- Newsletter sign ups
- Product demo requests
- Gated content downloads
- Free trial account registration
- Contact form submission
- On-site call bookings
In each case, you can set up a unique tag to monitor these types of requests. Then, analyse conversion rates — the percentage of users who have completed the action.
To collect sufficient data for marketing attribution modelling, set up Goal Tracking for different touchpoints (MoFU & BoFU) and asset types (contact forms, downloadable assets, etc.).
Your next task is to figure out how users interact with different on-site assets. That’s when Event Tracking comes in handy.
Event Tracking reports notify you about specific actions users take on your website. With Matomo Event Tracking, you can monitor where people click on your website, on which pages they click newsletter subscription links, or when they try to interact with static content elements (e.g., a non-clickable banner).
Using in-depth user behavioural reports, you can better understand which assets play a key role in the average customer journey. Using this data, you can localise “leaks” in your sales funnel and fix them to increase conversion rates.
Test and validate the selected model
A common challenge of marketing attribution modelling is determining the correct correlation and causality between exposure to touchpoints and purchases.
For example, a user who bought a discounted product from a Facebook ad would act differently than someone who purchased a full-priced product via a newsletter link. Their rate of pre- and post-sales exposure will also differ a lot — and your attribution model may not always accurately capture that.
That’s why you have to continuously test and tweak the selected model type. The best approach for that is lift analysis.
Lift analysis means comparing how your key metrics (e.g., revenue or conversion rates) change among users who were exposed to a particular campaign versus a control group.
In the case of marketing attribution modelling, you have to monitor how your metrics change after you’ve acted on the model recommendations (e.g., invested more in a well-performing referral channel or tried a new brand awareness Twitter ad). Compare the before and after ROI. If you see a positive dynamic, your model works great.
The downside of this approach is you have to invest a lot upfront. But if your goal is to create a trustworthy attribution model, the best way to validate it is to act on its suggestions and then test them against past results.
Use Matomo to get started with marketing attribution
A customer’s journey spans several devices and touchpoints before ultimately landing on a conversion.
Marketing attribution is crucial for any modern marketing team.
It helps you measure the impact of different channels, campaign types, and marketing assets on metrics — conversion rate, sales volumes and ROI.
To optimise marketing efforts and establish more personalised buyer experiences, marketers and business owners need to understand which touchpoints and messages a consumer came in contact with that resulted in a positive action.
Using this data, you can invest budgets into the best-performing channels and confidently experiment with new campaign types.
To truly make the most of marketing attribution, it’s essential to rely on accurate data. Inaccurate or incomplete analytics can obscure the full picture, holding back your marketing strategies from reaching their peak potential.
For effective and accurate marketing attribution, try Matomo—an intuitive, privacy-focused web analytics tool. With Matomo’s reliable data, you gain precise attribution insights, empowering informed marketing decisions for optimal outcomes.
Start using accurate marketing attribution in Matomo. Start your free 21-day trial now — no credit card required.