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Who Gets The Credit?: A Guide To Attribution Modeling

A customer sees your billboard while driving to work, asks a call center rep about your product, then buys your product after clicking on a search ad. Which channel drove the sale? Was it the billboard that made the customer aware of the brand? Was it the call center that helped in the research phase? Or was it the search ad? I think most of us would agree that the answer is all of them. This was a multichannel effort to acquire a customer.

Google AdWords and Google Analytics would, however, by default, disagree. They would argue the search ad – and the search ad alone – drove the sale. Now, this isn’t some conspiracy to make AdWords seem more valuable, it’s just how Google’s products are set up. However, there is a way to make sure all of the channels get some credit – changing the attribution model.

Selecting the right attribution model for your business is critical since it will determine which channels get the credit for a sale. This, in turn, influences which channels appear to be generating the best ROI and, therefore, where money will likely be allocated in the future to maximize ROI.

There are five major attribution models – ways of distributing credit for a sale – that Google uses, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

Last Click

This is the default attribution model for Google products. In this model, the last touchpoint (the search ad in the example above) gets all the credit. This model completely devalues channels that introduce customers to a brand or serve as points of continued engagement. It also overvalues the last touchpoint, since there were other engagement with the brand that assisted the conversion. If you, however, are promoting an engagement piece such as a download, last click may make sense since it’s unlikely users were influenced by other channels to download.

First Click

First click attribution is the opposite of last click. In this model, all credit goes to the first touchpoint. In the above example, this means the billboard gets all the credit. Similar to last click, this undervalues channels that provide continued engagement. It also devalues the channel that closed the deal. If your industry generally has longer nurturing cycles or if you’re running a brand awareness campaign, this model can be beneficial since it shows what channels are introducing customers that eventually convert.


Linear attribution splits credit evenly across all touchpoints. In other words, in the example above the billboard would get 1/3 of a conversion, the call center would get 1/3, and the search ad would get 1/3. While this is closer to a realistic view of the customer journey, it over-values engagement-focused channels that neither introduced nor closed the customer.


In this model, the first and last touch receive more credit than the middle points. In the example above, the billboard and search ad would each get 40% of a conversion and the call center would get 20% of a conversion. While this is better than the previous models, it likely under-values the touchpoints near the end (but not at the end) of the customer journey.

Time Decay

Finally, there is the time decay model. In this model, channels get more credit the closer they are to the conversion. For example, in the above scenario, the search ad would get 50% of the conversion, the call center would get 1/3, and the billboard would get 1/6 of the credit. Generally, for lead-focused businesses, this is the ideal attribution model since it gives the most credit to the lead closer, but also indicates the impact of other channels.

At Steadfast Results, we typically recommend the Time Decay attribution model. However, depending on the objectives of your campaign, a different model may be more appropriate. For more information on attribution modelling and how we can help your business, email or call (877) 753-7034.

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