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How Marketing Attribution Models Can Help You Pinpoint Content That’s Working (and That’s Not)

June 3, 2020
Roie Raitses
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The key to growth-hacking your business is to double down on what’s working. To do that, you need to know which points in your marketing funnel are doing the heavy lifting. Attribution models offer frameworks for showing how content influences prospects to take desired actions — like making a purchase or signing up for a webinar. A variety of models can be chosen to portray your customer’s path, or you can customize your own for the most accuracy.

What Is Marketing Attribution?

Attribution in marketing analytics is the tracking of customer interactions that generate conversions. In other words, it pinpoints how a visitor becomes a lead or a customer.

Whereas many metrics track the performance of content — things like views, average time on page and bounce rate — attribution looks at the content’s role in influencing an outcome.

At first blush, marketing attribution seems simple enough. But rarely does a prospect go straight to a website and make a purchase. They interact with a brand through various touchpoints and channels. In fact, according to Salesforce, the average customer uses up to 10 channels when communicating with a brand. Marketing attribution models can be used to identify the assets and channels that are delivering the best ROI.

 visual representation of marketing attribution

Which Attribution Model Should You Choose?

The best attribution model for you depends on the length of your sales funnel — or in content marketing terms, how much content a buyer generally engages with before making a sale.

The two overarching types of attribution models are:

  • Single-touch attribution models
  • Multi-touch attribution models

Single-Touch Attribution Models

Single-touch attribution, or one-touch attribution, accounts for just one point along the customer’s journey — typically the first interaction that sourced the lead, or the last step before the sale.

First-Touch Model

A first-touch or “first-click” attribution model gives credit to the first point of contact with the lead. This puts great importance on the role of content in sourcing customers. If you’re a small business executing small content marketing campaigns, a first-touch model is a simple tool to reveal which content is attracting actual buyers to your sales funnel.

It’s a model that’s easy to implement, and insights from it can be leveraged to generate new top-of-the-funnel leads. The disadvantage is it doesn’t account for content that influences the buyer between the first point of contact and point of sale. In short sales cycles where the first touchpoint is the most influential in closing the deal, a first-touch attribution model is appropriate.

Last-Touch Model

Last-touch or “last-click” attribution gives all the sales conversion credit to the last piece of content interacted with before the sale. A last-touch model can help you identify content converting the most sales at the end of your sales funnel. As the first-touch model, last-touch models are easy to implement because only one touchpoint is included. The problem with this model is it doesn’t account for where customers are coming from when they enter your sales funnel.

Last Non-Direct Click Model

The last non-direct click model is like the last-touch model, but it excludes direct traffic to your website. When a customer goes directly to your website to make a purchase, it’s likely because a previous interaction influenced them. This model ensures direct traffic isn’t confused with past marketing interactions.

A visual representation of single-touch marketing attribution models.

Multi-Touch Attribution Models

Whereas single-touch models attribute one point of influence in the buyer’s journey, multi-touch attribution models account for multiple points of influence along the way. There are several different types of multi-touch, or multi-channel, attribution models. You can even customize your own to reflect your sales funnel.

Linear Model

The million-dollar question in multi-touch attribution is: how much of the credit should each touchpoint get for making the sale? The linear model solves this problem by attributing equal credit to each step in the buyer’s journey.

The advantage of this model is that it accounts for all your content marketing touchpoints, showing how your different content pieces influenced buyers before purchase. It’s helpful if you have a long sales funnel that involves educating prospects with information in multiple interactions. Use a linear model to demonstrate how each content piece plays a sequential role in turning prospects into buyers.

Time-Decay Model

The time-decay model attributes equal credit to each touchpoint (just like the linear model), but it accounts for the order in which customers hit touchpoints in the buyer’s journey. The linear model can be set up to mimic the sales cycle you want a customer to follow, but it doesn’t actually measure or show the order of interactions as they occurred.

It takes more tracking to attribute the sequence of events that lead to the sale. However, the time-decay model is the best way to demonstrate how your marketing strategy builds effective relationships with customers.

A visual representation of multi-touch marketing attribution models.

Position-Based Models

Position-based models give unequal attribution to touchpoints in the buyer’s journey. The attribution given to each touchpoint depends on where it’s positioned in the buyer’s journey. The major position-based models used are U-shape and W-shape models, but you can also create a custom weighted multi-touch attribution model that makes the most sense for your business.

U-Shaped Model

In a U-shaped model, the first and last touchpoints in the buyer’s journey are most emphasized, and the middle points are attributed less. The first and last interactions with the customer get 40% of the credit for the sale, and any points in the middle account for 20%.

This attribution model makes sense for content strategies marketing high-ticket products that require extensive lead nurturing. It attributes credit to marketing touchpoints for sourcing, nurturing and converting leads. In this way, the U-shaped model is similar to the time-decay model, but it attributes more of the sale to the first and last interactions.

W-Shaped Model

Whereas the U-shaped model equally attributes interactions in the customer’s journey between the first and last interactions, the W-shaped model includes a midway point that’s emphasized as much as the first and last touchpoints. In a content strategy, this midpoint could be a larger content piece, like an evergreen whitepaper or e-book download — something that’s probably not the first or last interaction, but influential.

The first, mid and last touchpoints are each attributed 30% in a W-shaped model, and the remaining 10% is spread out among two other touchpoints. Like the U-shaped model, the W-shaped model suits longer buyer’s journeys with several marketing interactions.

Custom Position-Based Model

If you have multiple marketing touchpoints in your sales cycle but don’t see your customer’s journey represented accurately in any of the multi-touch models above, you can create a customized position-based model that’s more accurate. Plot the touchpoints along the buyer’s journey and attribute the most fitting amount of conversion credit to each so that they total 100%. While it’s always more work to create a custom model, it’s often more accurate.

A visual representation of a position-based marketing attribution model.

Marketing Attribution Example

To crystalize the difference between marketing attribution models, let’s review a simple example.

  • First touch: Jane Doe finds your blog post on Google after completing a search. She signs up for your company newsletter. (organic)
  • Second touch: Jane clicks on a CTA in your newsletter and enrolls in a webinar. (email)
  • Third touch: During the webinar, Jane downloads a gated e-book. (e-book)
  • Fourth touch: While on Linkedin, Jane clicks on an ad and schedules a consultation. Sales takes over and converts Jane into a customer. (Social/Paid)

The sale resulted in $50,000 in revenue. Here’s how credit would be assigned in each instance:

  • First-touch: $50,000 to organic
  • Last-touch: $50,000 to social/paid
  • Linear: $12,500 to each
  • U-shaped: $20,000 to organic, $5,000 to email, $5,000 to e-book, $20,000 to social/paid

Marketing Attribution Tracking Systems

Attribution tracking software is designed to trail complex digital content consumption pathways as marketers create them. They can put all this raw data into any attribution model you want to create to organize it in. Businesses have Google Analytics as a free option, or various paid software.

Free Marketing Attribution Tracking Using Google Analytics

Google Analytics has a free attribution modeling feature currently still in beta. You’ll need a Google Analytics account to connect your Analytics property, which is what Google calls your website. You can choose any of the attribution models we mentioned, or you can try Google’s model called Last Google Ads Click. In this straightforward first-touch model, the first Google ad click gets 100% of the credit for the sale.

Google also lets you make custom attribution models. It shows up to 10 custom-made attribution models in one view for at-a-glance insights. You can select a multi-touch attribution model, such as linear or position-based, as a baseline for your custom model. Then, customize the rules for how credit is attributed to different touchpoints.

Marketing Attribution Software to Optimize Your Content Strategy

While Google’s free tool gives everyone the basics, it may not have all the features you need. Paid marketing attribution software for businesses is generally more comprehensive and tailored to your needs. According to ChiefMarTech, there are nearly 200 marketing attribution software solutions on the market.

For example, if most of your content is on “dark social” networks with minimal data tracked, try a tool like Oktopost, designed for social media attribution tracking. If your business is an app, you can use a tool like AppsFlyer to track touchpoints attributing to downloads. If you have a big marketing team, Terminus is an account-based marketing platform with full analytics capabilities, including multi-touch attribution tracking.

Adinton is an optimization tool with a full suite of marketing attribution tracking and modeling features. With its advanced compiling of customer journey data across devices and even offline, it tracks the content that’s best nurturing your leads wherever it’s accessed. Consider what needs to be tracked in your buyer's journey, and look for a solution in your budget that integrates with the software you already use.

Using Attribution Tracking to Optimize Your Content Strategy

When you look at your attribution model generated after all the data has been filled in, you’ll see which content or channels have the highest ROI in your content strategy. With this insight, you can reallocate your resources to what’s paying off the most. This is an effective way to increase your bottom line without putting more money into your marketing plan.

If you’re creating content for your blog, YouTube channel, multiple social media networks and you’re creating content for your email list, it’s easy to stretch yourself thin. Attribution tracking reveals the channels that are the most effective buyer’s pathways. Thus, you can save the effort spent on channels not working, and you have an informed, clear direction for your content marketing strategy moving forward.


Roie Raitses

Roie Raitses is Kantaloupe's founder and CEO. Roie combines his passion and tenacity for digital marketing with more than 20 years of experience founding and scaling successful businesses. When he's not growing great companies faster, Roie enjoys mountain biking and spending time with his wife and two daughters.

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