Marketers have many channels at their disposal. The key to generating conversions should be choosing the right marketing channel and focusing on it, right? Well, yes and no. 

The reality is that conversions often take place only after consumers interact with multiple channels. Someone might visit your blog, leave without converting, then come back a week later. They might finally decide to make a purchase only after clicking on your retargeted ad.

But if there are many marketing channels involved in a customer journey, which one should get credit when a consumer converts? The answer depends on your attribution model.

What Are Attribution Models?

An attribution model is a framework for analyzing which marketing channel should get credit for a conversion. In our example above, depending on the attribution model you chose, it’s either the blog or the retargeting ad or even both that are responsible.

Your choice of attribution model(s) will inform your marketing decisions. If you choose the wrong one, you’ll end up wasting your money, time, and effort. If you’re working with clients, you may need to specify the attribution model you’ll use in your project proposal.

So which is the right attribution model? The one that provides the most useful measuring stick for your campaign.

6 Types of Attribution Models: What You Need to Know

Now that you know the importance of attribution models, let’s look at six common models and what you need to know about them.

First-Click Attribution Models 

The first-click attribution model gives credit to a customer’s first touchpoint. It doesn’t matter if that touchpoint directly influenced the conversion or not. If it’s the first click, it’s responsible for the conversion.

Imagine a consumer clicks on your Facebook ad but doesn’t buy, and then directly goes to your website and makes a purchase two days later. Based on the first-click attribution model, the Facebook ad would be responsible for the conversion.

This attribution model helps you see which channels are effective in generating leads. It is handy if your business has a short buying cycle. However, the model can overemphasize the importance of lead generation, leading you to overlook other essential steps in a buyer’s journey.

Last-Click Attribution Models

In the last-click attribution model, direct traffic gets the credit for the conversion. This model helps you assess where your bottom-of-the-funnel transitions are taking place. It is useful if your sales funnel is wide at the top but narrow at the bottom. 

The problem with the last-click attribution model is that it tends to overemphasize the importance of a specific touchpoint. Using this model, a company could incorrectly assume that sales are excellent thanks to the company website, where consumers make the purchase. However, those customers might have encountered numerous other touchpoints before browsing to the website to buy. 

Linear Attribution Models

The linear attribution model credits more than one platform for a conversion. As long as a customer interacted with a particular platform before the conversion, it is important. So if someone visits your blog, signs up to your email list, and then buys through your Facebook ad, all three channels would get credit for the conversion.

You’ll be able to see which channels work well together and which perform better at particular funnel stages. The downside is that this model doesn’t account for the fact that some platforms might deserve more credit than others. 

Position-based Attribution Models

The position-based attribution model credits the conversion to multiple touchpoints in a customer’s journey. The first and last touchpoints each get 40% of the credit, while the remaining 20% is divided between any others.

Source: Neil Patel

If someone visits your blog, signs up to your newsletter, sees you on Pinterest, and then makes a purchase through your Facebook ad, the blog and the Facebook ad would get 40% credit each, and the email newsletter and Pinterest would get 10% each.

This model accounts for the fact that the first platform generated the lead and the last platform converted.

Time Decay Attribution Models

The time decay attribution model gives the most credit to the final touchpoint in a customer’s journey, but also credits those before it. Unlike the linear attribution model, the time decay model also takes into account when the interaction between the consumer and the platform took place. The closer the interaction is to the point of purchase, the more credit that platform gets.

Imagine someone googles your brand, visits your website, and two days later signs up to your newsletter. After a week, they buy through your Facebook ad. Using this model, the Facebook ad gets the most credit, while the organic search receives the least credit.

Source: Agency Analytics

Time decay attribution models are useful if you have a long sales cycle. B2B companies and those selling high ticket items can benefit from this model.

Data-driven attribution models

The data-driven attribution model gives the most accurate assessment of how each channel contributes to your marketing efforts. That’s because the model analyzes every touchpoint, notes whether it participated in a conversion or not, and then gives the credit each touchpoint deserves based on robust data.

Data-driven attribution models can be challenging to manage because of the volume of data involved. You might also need to hire an analyst to interpret findings if you want to make timely decisions for your campaign.

Wrapping up 

Attribution models are critical to your marketing success. They give your campaign direction and help you figure out what is working and what isn’t. 

Now that you understand the six main attribution models, you’ll be able to include a section in your SEO proposal template to tell clients which attribution model you will use and why. 

If you ask me which model is best, I’d say that depends on who’s asking. The right model varies depending on industry, goals, and context. You’ll need to choose the one(s) that suits your campaign best.