Attribution modeling (also known as "marketing attribution" or just "attribution"), is a way to understand which marketing efforts are best performing. It's a popular topic recently as more marketers accept that their targets will interact with many of their campaigns before buying or signing up. To put it another way, marketing attribution is a way for marketers to give credit to campaigns, justifying the cost and effort they require.

Say you run marketing for an online shoe store and you are using several channels to bring in traffic:

  • Paid ads on google search
  • Instagram posts of the newest shoes
  • Twitter posts of sales and promotions
  • Recently featured in "FancyFootwear" print magazine

In a perfect world, customers would click on one of those channels, come to the store and buy some shoes. Unfortunately, in the real world customers will engage with many channels before buying anything: They might click on a twitter link, come to the site to look around, wait 3 days, then search for 'fantastic footwear', click on an ad to come back to the site, then finally buy some new shoes.

Customer Journey

Attribution models combine the activity from many customer journeys to tell you overall performance of each channel. Let's take a look at the real-world scenario from the shoe store above:

For this customer, you can see they interacted with two marketing channels: Twitter posts and Google AdWords ads. Of course, you can't control how many times a visitor will come to your site through various marketing channels, some might come and purchase directly, and some may take 10+ trips before purchasing.

Attribution modeling is a way to give credit to each engaged channel. In the above example, both Twitter and and Google AdWords would get partial credit for the final purchase.

Assigning Credit

There are various ways to assign credit to sources of traffic. These are called attribution models. Some models are simple and some have complicated logic to decide how much credit to distribute. Here's an example that gives credit evenly split between both Twitter and AdWords using the "linear" attribution model:

The Tyranny of Last Click

You may have heard of "Last click" attribution modeling. This means that only the click directly before the purchase gets all the credit. In the above example, the Google AdWords click would get all credit and Twitter would be ignored.

You may be putting tons of effort into your Twitter presence and without a different attribution model, Twitter won't get any credit for the purchases it helps drive!

What's next?

Dive deeper into attribution models by learning about various attribution models in our attribution model guide.