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Simply put, attribution model is a way to attribute conversions to your marketing activities. Ideally, we would like to believe that a visitor finds you via your blog or an ad and immediately clicks on it to convert into a lead or sale! Unfortunately, that’s hardly the case. Customer journeys can be complicated and a visitor might take several touchpoints before converting.

Let us consider an analogy to help us better understand this concept. Let’s say your team is playing a game of football. You have players, a goalie and an opposing team you’re playing with. Say, player A scores the winning goal. Will you, the coach of the team, congratulate just player A? Or will you just give credits to player A for winning the match? Of course not! It was a team effort. While player A made the winning goal, it wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of other players as well.

Your marketing efforts are similar. Say, a user discovers you from a Facebook ad. He probably even visits your website and explores your products or even adds one or two to his cart. However, he doesn’t convert to a customer. After a few days, he again encounters a display advertisement of your product on one of his favorite blogs and is reminded of his last interaction with you. He recovers his cart and finally, checks out. 

Will you, as the marketer, just attribute this conversion to the display advertisement and completely ignore the Facebook ad? No, of course not! That would be barbaric! 

Understanding how yours or potential users behave will give you a fair idea of the different paths they take before converting.

Inbound Marketing in Sales
A typical conversion funnel

Why is attribution modeling important?

Recent studies show that 84% of companies use more than one marketing channel. In such a case, wouldn’t you want to maximize the ROI of your marketing efforts? Wouldn’t you want to only invest in the most profitable channels and become rich? Of course, you would! But how will you do that unless you have a way of calculating the ROI of different channels?

Research shows that 92% of consumers visiting a retailer’s website for the first time don’t have an intention to purchase. We also have seen fewer conversions from visiting just one advertisement. So, how do we tackle this problem?

Most ad platforms use the concept of “conversion window”, which essentially means that if a visitor buys from you within n days after viewing your advertisement on their platform, they will attribute the conversion to their platform. For platforms such as Facebook, the conversion window is 30 days.

Hence, if Bob sees an ad on Facebook on day 1 and another ad on Google Search on day 6 and finally, converts on day 9, both Facebook and Google will take the credit. Uh-oh! What will you do now? How will you solve this double-counting problem? You guessed it right – by attribution modeling.

According to Google

“An attribution model is the rule, or set of rules, that determine how credits for sale and conversions are assigned to touchpoints in conversion paths”.

Types of attribution models

The different types of attribution models available are:

First touch attribution model

First Click Attribution Model
First Click Attribution Model

This model gives 100% of the credit of conversion to the first touchpoint in the customer’s journey. For instance, if a customer comes to your website from an organic search first and then a Facebook ad before converting, the conversion would be attributed as an organic conversion. Mostly used for lead generation in B2B industries, this model is pretty simple and straightforward.

The model is useful if you have a short buying cycle or are trying to understand which first touchpoints lead to a sale. Naturally, the top of the funnel part is the most important in this scenario.

The model, however, has its own limitations and ignores any other potential marketing channels at a later stage in time.

Last click attribution model

Last Click Attribution Model
Last Click Attribution Model

As opposed to the first click, the last touchpoint before the conversion receives 100% of credit in the last-click attribution model. It is one of the most popular models and also the default model in your Google Analytics account.

Again, it is also one of the simplest attribution models to implement. While customer journeys may be complicated (people may access your products from multiple devices, clear browsing data or even use multiple browsers), you can most of the times, be certain of the last interaction the customer made before buying from you. However, all other interactions are ignored in this case.

The last click model is the most effective when you want to find out which channels lead to the most conversions. As a marketer, you would want to invest more in the channel which leads to maximum conversions even though people might visit several other channels.

Linear attribution model

Linear Attribution Model
Linear Attribution Model

In the linear attribution model, each touchpoint leading up to conversion gets equal credits. For instance, if a customer visits your blog and then clicks on an Instagram to finally convert, both the touchpoints will get 50% of the conversion credits.

The linear model helps marketers understand how the middle phase of the customer’s journey has a significance in his conversion. You might also be able to see patterns or trends which otherwise, you wouldn’t have seen.

However, the linear model works on the assumption that every touchpoint has equal importance, which in the real world isn’t true. Does attending a webinar show the same level of interest and intent as liking an Instagram post? What about the intent of an email subscriber vs someone who sees your advertisement on Youtube? 

The linear model helps when you want to measure your marketing strategies holistically. 

Position-based attribution model

Position Based Attribution Modeling
Position Based Attribution Modeling

In the position-based attribution model, 40% of credits are assigned to the first and the last interaction whereas the remaining 20% is assigned to all other middle touchpoints. Hence, it is also known as the “U-shaped attribution model”. 

This model focusses mainly on “How did they find you?” and “What made them buy from you?” As a result, using this model will tell you which channels are the best for acquiring a lead and which are the best for converting the lead. Such a model is ideal for scenarios where the buying cycle isn’t too long.

Time decay attribution model

Time Decay Attribution Model
Time Decay Attribution Model

We all know how the sales funnel works; from awareness to interest, consideration and finally, conversion and delight. As a marketer, you know that creating awareness is important but you are more likely to be happier when see real cash, i.e., conversion. Well, if you belong to this category, time decay is the way to go!

The time decay attribution model attributes maximum credits to touchpoints closest in time to the sale. The first interaction receives the least credits while the last interaction receives maximum credits.

Usually, if you’re an established brand, it makes more sense to opt for a time decay model since there are higher chances of people converting by searching for your brand name.

Data-driven attribution model

Data-driven Attribution Model
Data-driven Attribution Model

The data-driven attribution model is probably the most intelligent among all! At this point, we can fairly state that all other models work on quite a bit of assumption. However, you’re not the one who chooses in the case of the data-driven attribution model.

This model allows you to set your end goal and thereby, weighs each channel based on its effectiveness of reaching the goals. Each channel then, receives the credit it deserves, with the end goal being conversion. 

How to choose the right attribution model for your business

“Whoa, that is a lot of decision making to do! Why would you put me in that spot?” Well, we hear ya. Understanding the attribution models is only winning half the battle. The other half is deciding which model is right for your business! And we’re here to help!

Since every model has its pros and cons, you cannot choose one single model over others. You need to figure out which model suits your business. To answer this, start with your goal. What is the end goal of the campaign? What do you want to achieve out of your efforts?

Here are some tips to help you select:

  • What is the average number of touchpoints prior to conversion? The more the touchpoints, the more refined the model you need. 
  • How much time does it take on average from the first touchpoint to conversion? Models such as linear and last click do not tell you about the entire customer journey. Hence, the longer time it takes from lead generation to conversion, the more complex and refined the model you need.
  • Which channels are you using? Fewer channels mean simpler models!
  • What are you trying to measure? While the first click model works for lead generation, a new brand would benefit more from the position-based model. Define your goals clearly.
  • Always compare, test and optimize! The testing never stops now, does it? 

Conclusion

While there is no direct solution to how to choose the right attribution model for your business, factors such as the average number of touchpoints before conversion, the length of the sales cycle, your brand essence, campaign goals, and the customer journeys dictate the attribution models right for your business. 

Understanding which channels generate the maximum ROI is of the most powerful ways to optimize your marketing efforts and without the right attribution models, you’d be as good as taking a shot in the dark. Even though you wouldn’t land at 100% accuracy, you’d be able to block the noise enough to take the right business decisions.

What attribution models do you use for your campaigns? Comment below or write to us at [email protected].

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