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Attribution Models – The Whole Truth

Sunday, January 14th, 2018
Written by Content Team

Giving credit where credit’s due is something that should be inherently obvious. However, with Digital Marketing, credit is very often not applied where it is due. And indeed, there is a great deal of debate about how is best to apply credit to marketing campaigns. Thankfully, the debate can continue thanks to the variety of attribution models offered by Google AdWords. Each of these methods provides a different way of attributing the conversion and realistically each should be considered in order to provide a complete picture of the effectiveness of your marketing.

Last Click

This is by far the simplest to understand. Whichever keyword, ad or product ad was clicked last gets all the credit for the conversion. This is a fairly short-term view, which ignores the customer journey before that. Obviously, this can work in these scenarios (low value ecommerce purchases) but for anything requiring consideration, or where competition is high, this is a limited picture.


First Click

At the other end of the spectrum, first click is once again as simple as it sounds. The first click in this scenario, not the last, gets all the credit. Again, this is a limited picture, giving us an interesting insight into how users first find the website, but does not provide us with true insight into the customer journey. In order to truly understand how customers interact with your business, we need to look at how customers interact with you over time. Which leads us to…


Time Decay

Now we’re starting to get something. Time decay offers us a fascinating insight into how your customers view your business and their decision-making process. Time decay splits the conversion credit up between the campaigns that lead to a conversion but does so in a way that increases the credit for clicks that occur closer to the point of conversion. This credit is split based on a 7-day half-life. So a click that occurs 8 days before the conversion gets half the credit of a click that happens 1 day before. This is a unique insight, providing you with a means to analyse your data based on the amount of time from the click to the conversion. It is reasonable to assume that clicks that occur closer to the point of conversion in general have more influence. However, what about the first click which introduced the user to your business? Is this not important?


Position Based

Well here is a model that would appear to be the complete package. This appears to strike the balance between all of the above attribution models. Specifically, this model gives 40% of the credit to the first and last clicks on your ads, with the remaining 20% split across any other clicks. So with this model we are balancing our conversions between the click that introduces the customer to the website and the click that ultimately leads to the conversion. It also acknowledges the clicks in between which keep the customer journey alive. Of the basic models, this would appear to offer the big picture. You may see little to no conversions from a particular keyword, but it might be a great way to introduce users to your website before the user converting at a later date, but another keyword may be the last step before conversion, best of both worlds. However, some clicks are better than others and it is important to acknowledge that all of these models ignore what a user actually does when they reach your website apart from conversions. So what can we do about this?

Data Driven

This appears to be the perfect attribution model. This looks at historical data from your account and attributes conversions based on the inferred value of each click. Not simply the first and last or how long before the conversion occurs. But an analytical judgement of what each click actually did. A click on the site which lead to a bounce would probably receive less credit than one where the clicks led to research and consideration. By analysing the click paths by users who convert to those that don’t, Google judges which clicks offer you the most value. Perfect right? Sadly, this only becomes available when a minimum amount of data is received. That’s 15,000 clicks and 600 conversions in a 30-day period. And if after achieving this you drop below 10,000 clicks or 400 conversions you will risk losing this information. If you have the data however, there’s no better conversion model here.


When all is said and done the important thing with attribution models is to be aware that they exist and knowing what each one means. To get a true picture of performance, it is important to consider all of the above. By analysing different conversion models and looking at how different areas perform when comparing with different models, you can build up a true picture of performance and make the best possible decisions about your PPC performance.