I have been out of school for quite a while now, but the word “group project” still haunts me. There’s truly nothing worse than getting stuck doing all the work while everyone else coasts to get the same grade.
If your marketing assets could talk, I’m sure they’d say something similar, because not all tactics are created equal. Your email campaign might have resulted in a customer, but what about the ad that captured their email address in the first place?
Multi-touch attribution helps us to give credit to our marketing channels where it’s due so we can understand what's working best. So in this post, I'm going to cover:
- What multi-touch attribution is and why it’s important.
- The pros and cons of the four main types of multi-touch attribution models.
- How to set up view multi-touch conversion data.
- How to choose the right attribution model for your business.
But before that, let's talk about marketing attribution in general.
What is marketing attribution?
Marketing attribution is used to identify which campaigns or strategies are responsible for your customers becoming aware of your business and eventually purchasing your product or service.
To understand marketing attribution, think of your last big buying decision. I’d bet you didn’t just jump straight to a website and take the plunge. You may have:
- Received an email
- Saw a post on social media
- Researched online
- Read reviews
- Seen an ad
- And more!
If the company behind that purchase is using marketing attribution, they will be able to see which of those channels led you to become a customer.
Why is marketing attribution important?
Regardless of what your marketing goals are, your strategies are most likely costing you time, money, and resources. You don’t want to be putting all of that effort in for no return. Marketing attribution helps you avoid that by helping you to track what works and what doesn’t.
Well, marketing attribution not only helps you analyze the success of your marketing efforts, but it also gives you insights into the customer journey.
In order to improve the future, we must understand the past, and marketing attribution helps us do that!
Alright, now it's time to move on to one of the most important approaches to marketing attribution: multi-touch attribution!
What is multi-touch attribution?
Remember those marketing touchpoints I listed above? As you know, there is rarely just one marketing campaign responsible for a conversion. Multiple touchpoints are involved, which is where multi-touch attribution comes in.
Multi-touch attribution is marketing attribution that takes into account these multiple touchpoints. And you use attribution modeling to choose how you’d prefer to weigh those many actions towards counting to a conversion.
There are two categories of attribution models: single touch and multi-touch.
Single-touch attribution models only credit the first or last touchpoint before said conversion action. The two single-touch attribution models are:
- First click: The first item that sparked the conversion gets full credit, regardless of other steps in between on the customer’s journey.
- Last click: The last asset your user sees or clicks on before the conversion gets full credit, regardless of anything that happened prior to the action.
Multi-touch attribution models, on the other hand, give credit to multiple touchpoints. The multi-touch attribution models in Google Ads are:
- Time decay
- Position based
Benefits of multi-touch attribution
In an omnichannel world, there are countless ways a customer could reach their conversion point. Multi-touch attribution uses the pre-set signals each model is built off of to properly weigh those touchpoints accordingly.
This particular type of attribution model allows you to assign real financial value to all your various marketing efforts. Unlike the single touch models within the marketing attribution umbrella, multi-touch attribution models take your PPC optimization a step further by reporting on performance across the customer journey—not on just one asset at the beginning or end.
But multi-touch attribution is not as common as you might think. Take a look at the survey below:
Despite the known fact that the customer journey has so many touchpoints, only 34% of advertisers are using multi-touch as their primary attribution model. In fact, 58% don't venture away from single-touch! Read on to learn why you may want to use multi-touch attribution in your PPC campaigns.
How to measure multi-touch attribution
You can view your multi-channel attribution data using the Google Analytics Multi-Channel Funnels tab.
With the Assisted Conversions report, you can see the value of each channel by displaying the additional number of conversions outside of raw “last touch” conversions.
In the Top Conversion Paths report, you can quickly understand how people are reaching your site, as well as which channels (or channel combinations) work best.
Types of multi-touch attribution models (pros & cons)
As noted above, there are four types of multi-touch attribution models in Google Ads. Let’s take a deeper dive into each one:
A linear attribution model distributes the credit for a conversion evenly across all interactions along a conversion path.
Pros: Linear attribution is straightforward—each asset holds the same amount of weight. So it’s a great way to start analyzing your marketing and advertising efforts using multi-touch attribution to optimize for the entire customer journey (not just one single activity).
Cons: Remember the group project dilemma I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Linear attribution models can allow that same phenomenon to happen as all assets show they are contributing equally to your end goal (even if some really aren’t). In short, it can be hard to pinpoint what is or isn’t working.
Time decay attribution
A time decay attribution model gives more credit to any interactions that happened closer to the time of the conversion, based on a seven-day half-life. For example, an ad interaction eight days before a conversion gets half as much credit as an interaction that happened just one day prior to the conversion.
Pros: Time decay attribution models can be helpful if you have a short sales cycle, since you’ll have an idea of what pushed a customer to ultimately convert at the very end of their journey.
Cons: If you have a long or complex sales cycle, certain assets that may have impacted a customer early on won’t receive the credit they might deserve.
Position-based attribution uses a 40-40-20 rule to credit interactions towards a conversion. This means it gives 40% of the credit to both the first and last interactions, and 20% to the rest of the interactions in between. Position-based attribution is often also referred to as a U-shaped model.
Pros: With position-based attribution, every touchpoint gets a piece of the pie while still optimizing for the (sometimes more important) first and last interactions.
Cons: Low-value interactions could mistakenly receive too much credit depending on your customers’ journey. Think of it this way: does it make sense for my first touch email blast to receive the same credit as my display ad that resulted in the conversion?
Data-driven attribution distributes credit for a conversion based on your account’s past data for said conversion action. It’s different from all other models because it uses your data to calculate the actual contribution of each interaction along the conversion path.
Pros: Data-driven attribution can increase accuracy in your reporting by using historical data to know truly how impactful each asset might be.
Cons: If your account doesn’t have a ton of historical data for data-driven attribution to go off of, it can be difficult to efficiently weigh in each conversion’s touchpoints.
Which multi-touch attribution model should I use?
I think there is one thing we can all agree on when it comes to multi-touch attribution models: there are plenty of options to choose from!
If you’re struggling to know which choice is best for you, do a bit of research and take inventory of your current PPC campaigns and your accounts’ specific needs.
There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all answer as to which multi-touch attribution model is best for you. So, aligning your goals with your multi-touch attribution model selection will help to clarify the perfect route for you and your customers’ journey.
How to set your attribution model
Once you’ve decided on which attribution model to use, select the “Attribution model” setting when implementing tracking for each conversion action. This can be done with both website or Google Analytics conversion actions.
If you already have your conversion tracking set up and want to change what you’re currently using, follow these steps:
- In your Google Ads account, click into the tools & settings menu, then click conversions under the measurement section.
- Select the conversion action you want to edit.
- Click edit settings.
- Click attribution model, then select from the drop-down menu.
- Hit save and done!
If you’re unsure of how a certain model might impact your account, you can use the model comparison tool within the Attribution section of the platform to run two model types head to head! Google provides more details on that tool and attribution setup here.
Capture your customer journey with multi-touch attribution
Today's customer journey encompasses all kinds of channels, platforms, and devices. Do yourself a favor and get multi-touch attribution in place so you can give credit to your marketing efforts where it's due, and get rid of what's not working!