You’ve probably heard conversations about marketing attribution. You’re familiar with the concept, but you wonder why it matters. Maybe you haven’t thought about it at all. Well, here’s a crash course that is worth the read.

Marketing attribution is the science of determining touch points that contribute to an outcome, decision, or purchase and assigning credit to each touchpoint. I know, science is used in that definition, but no scientific jargon here…I promise.

How It Works 

Before a shopper makes a decision, they are exposed to media from several channels and perform multiple actions. This digital footprint they leave is known as the “consumer decision journey” or “consumer conversion path.” The touch points within this journey/path are marketing channels, comprising both paid and unpaid media.

So, let’s say Shamus, a self-proclaimed cool guy, is in the market for a new motorcycle, because…cool. He’s seen several TV ads for a bike he has been eyeing, so he immediately visits the manufacturer’s website, which refers him to a local dealership website. He browses the website and checks out pricing for that model, but he’s not satisfied, so he visits a few other dealer websites by searching for “motorcycle dealer near me” to compare pricing.

A few days later, he sees an ad on Instagram with an offer for that motorcycle he was researching and clicks to visit the website. The offer is too good to pass up, but he decides to do some more research on the dealership (such as reviews and location) before he goes in to buy. Finally, he searches for the name of the dealership (from the Instagram ad), clicks on their Google Ads listing, and not only fills out a finance app, but sets an appointment to go into the dealership.

So why does marketing attribution matter? Your TV ads drove awareness, the OEM site as a referral channel drove consideration, your organic listings and Facebook/Instagram ads drove intent, and finally the decision was made through your Google Ads. Depending on which channel(s) you assign the credit to, you may end up spending money on the wrong one to improve leads—or even cut budgets/efforts for a channel that is driving leads behind the scenes. This is where attribution models come into play. We’ll discuss a few based on our scenario from earlier.

Last Click/Last Touch Attribution – Assigns 100% of the credit to the last interaction or touchpoint. In our scenario, the lead is 100% credited to Google Ads. All other touches are ignored.

First Click/First Touch Attribution – Assigns 100% of the credit to the first interaction. This means the credit is 100% credited to your TV ads. All other touches are ignored.


Both of these models focus on either the first or last touch and ignore all other touch points. This is a problem, especially if you are looking to distribute your marketing budgets effectively across channels. For this, you need models that consider every touchpoint. Yeah, there’s more:

Linear Attribution – Assigns credit to each touchpoint evenly. This means TV, referral (OEM site), organic, Facebook and Google Ads all get an equal amount of credit–20% each.

Position-Based Attribution – Assigns 40% of the credit to the first and last touch and the remaining 20% is shared across all touchpoints in the middle. TV gets 40%, Google Ads get 40% and Referral, FB and Organic get approximately 6.6% each.

Time Decay Attribution – Assigns credit to the touchpoint or interaction closer in time to the lead. In this case, Google Ads gets the most credit, followed by FB, then Organic, Referral and TV gets the least credit.

All three models are much better than the first two by recognizing each touchpoint in the conversion path. However, each model has its cons:

  • The linear model may overvalue certain touch points that may be low impact (organic for example)
  • Position-based model does the opposite and may undervalue certain touch points (in the middle) that might be critical to the customer journey
  • Time Decay mimics a last click model, however it includes the other touch points with the downside being the last click interaction gets the most credit.

To eliminate issues with inconsistencies and data bias, your best bet is Data-Driven attribution model.

Data-Driven/AI Powered Attribution – Using AI (or machine learning), several conversion paths are analyzed and touch points are weighted differently for each path. Then, a custom (and complex) model is built based on findings. What this means is, with the data driven model, if Facebook or TV was your most important touchpoint, certain signals (previously missed) within the conversion path will reveal that.

This model, however, is not perfect. A walk-in, for example, with little or no prior digital footprint is difficult to follow. However, with advancements in geo-based and mobile tracking, we can only go up from here.

If you already have access to or use Google Analytics, then you’re halfway to understanding how each of your marketing channels drive your leads for free. Get started now.

About the Author

Kwasi is PCG's Paid Search Director. When he’s not analyzing digital advertising data, Kwasi likes to travel, spend time with family, and watch sports.