A Guide to Attribution Models in Digital Marketing

By: Michelle Law  | 09/12/2018

In our day and age, potential buyers rarely make a decision through a single channel. It’s more likely that as they are researching their purchases, they interact with multiple mediums (probably without even realizing it). These mediums can include: search ads, email, display ads, organic search, radio ads and more. When reporting, attribution models can help determine which mediums contribute to the desired outcome (e.g. making a purchase).


What Is an Attribution Model?

Attribution models are sets of rules that define the credit of a conversion assigned to different touchpoints throughout the buyer’s journey. Selecting the right attribution model can help you better optimize initiatives based on complete conversion paths.

As defined by Google Ads*, here are the 6 main attribution models:

  • First-click: Gives all credit for the conversion to the first click.
  • Linear: Distributes the credit for the conversion equally across all clicks on the path.
  • Time decay: Gives more credit to clicks that happened closer in time to the conversion.
  • Position-based: Gives more credit for the conversion to both the first- and last-clicks, with the remaining credit spread out across the other clicks on the path.
  • Last-click: Gives all credit for the conversion to the last click.
  • Data-driven: Distributes credit for the conversion based on past data for this conversion action.



Different attribution models can provide different insights on conversions. For example, if you are using first-click or last-click attribution, all of the channels, campaigns, ads and keywords that influenced the purchase outside of the first and last click will receive no credit. While using a more encompassing model, such as position-based, time decay, data-driven or linear, will distribute credit across all channels, campaigns, ads and keywords.

It’s recommended to first test a new model to see how it affects ROI. By comparing or switching models, you can discover initiatives that are undervalued or overvalued because of their placement in the buyer’s journey and model selected. For example, when comparing first- and last-click models, you can identify the searches that customers make at the start versus the end of their research. Then, based on your goals, you can shift budget into the initiatives that are driving new interest (leads) or the initiatives that are converting the researching prospects (sales-qualified leads).



The best place to get started is using existing data collected in Google Ads and/or Google Analytics. Follow the paths below to begin:

  • Google Ads > Measurement > Search Attribution > Attribution Modeling
  • Google Analytics > Conversions > Attribution > Model Comparison Tool


*View the complete support section on attribution models for Google Ads here: https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/6259715?authuser=0#attribution_modeling_report



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