60 Seconds On: Conversion Attribution Models

60 Seconds On: Conversion Attribution Models

In a nutshell conversion attribution is about understanding what impact each marketing channel has on the different stages (=interactions a consumer has with the company) in the buying journey and how they each contribute to getting consumers to convert (=become a customer / buy something / sign up to a newsletter / other).

With this information a company can make smart budget allocation decisions and tailor messaging effectively for each marketing channels.

Here’s a 60 second look at the different conversion attribution models and how to choose the right one for your business:

Topics covered in this post:

  1. The importance of conversion attribution 
  2. Last touch
  3. First touch
  4. Time decay
  5. Custom model

Before we dive into our 60 seconds on conversion attribution models, here’s a short overview of:

The importance of conversion attribution

Most companies utilize more than one channel in order to reach potential customers online. These channels usually include many of the following-

Paid ads on Google search and Facebook newsfeed for conversions, Display advertising for brand awareness, social posts for engagement on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, SEO in order to increase organic traffic to the site, guest posting, publishing articles on news sites and employing affiliate programs in order to increase referral traffic, and more.

Having so many channels working together in order to maximize visibility and get more customers can be quite lucrative, unless you don’t know how to measure their impact on the bottom line and most companies, unfortunately, do not.

That’s where conversion attribution models come in.

But if I have conversion tracking I can clearly see which channel got me the conversion and thus, is responsible for the revenue, can’t I?

No. You can’t. you’ll typically only know one thing – what’s the last channel the user interacted with before converting and by only looking at this you might choose to close activity in channels that may not directly result in a conversion, but are crucial in the journey towards it.

Here’s an example:

You might find that the cool [and expensive] product explainer video you natively uploaded to your Facebook fan page does not bring in that many conversions.

This is a very real scenario and it’s usually related to the fact that a video about your brand works better at introducing consumers to your offering, however it’s missing the direct response urgency an ad brings to the table and thus, it proves far less effective at closing the deal.

Does this mean you shouldn’t make any more product videos because they never lead directly to conversions?

Hell no! In an online world where attention is quickly shifting from written to video content that would be a huge mistake.

Before eliminating video from your marketing artillery, check if having these videos be the first (or one of the first) interaction(s) a person has with the company, increases the likelihood of a conversion down the line.


Thankfully, Google Analytics offers you insight into exactly this!

Go to GA, Conversions >> Attribution >> Model Comparison.

In this section Analytics you’ll find a pretty handy tool to compare different attribution models and see which channel was better at starting a buyers journey, which one was better at finishing it and which are better at assisting in the in-between stages of the journey.

Let’s look at the different conversion attribution models available on Google Analytics and find the one that works best for your needs:

1. Last touch

When you choose the last touch conversion attribution model on Google Analytics (and by default you do), 100% of the credit for a conversion is given to the last channel the user interacted with before converting.

Most companies know that this is wrong and highly skewed towards hard-sell advertising channels (PPC) like Google Adwords or Facebook in which the CTA is usually a variation on “Start now”.

Not only that, but it is not uncommon that the last touch model will show you that your most effective conversion channel is ‘Direct’.

Direct traffic is traffic that got to your site by explicitly writing your site URL in the search bar.

How do all these converters know your brand and the exact URL of your site?

Maybe they’ve seen some of the good content you’ve put on the web, or saw an exciting Facebook ad or the newsletter you made was forwarded to them and they loved it.

You’ll never know because those weren’t the last stops in the buyer’s journey before he/she converted, ‘Direct’ was, so it gets all the credit.

To sum up, with last touch you’ll have a damn hard time deciphering the actual value and contribution of most of your marketing channels (everything but PPC and direct will likely fall short in this model).

2. First touch

A far less helpful conversion attribution model than last touch, is first touch. In this model the channel that a consumer first interacted with get’s 100% of the credit for a conversion.

By using this model you will basically have zero to go on when optimizing your conversion funnels.

The first time a user sees your brand online could be an article you published on a news site. It could have been a very insightful article in which you gave value in a very non-salesy way.

But let’s get real for a second – do you actually think a users reading something nice you wrote leads directly to a conversion?

More likely – If you made a good impression and the reader happens to be interested in your offering he/she might drop by your website to learn more, he/she’ll check some recommendation sites, scroll through the content you put on your Facebook page and maybe, after all these touch-points, he/she might finally decide convert.

This means that other than knowing that you pretty much aced the crucial intro, this model tells you nothing about what influenced the user to become your customer.

So don’t use this model.

3. Time decay

This is a nice one. The time decay conversion attribution model divides the “credit” it gives the different channels in the conversion path based on a smart idea that the closest a channel is [in time] to the actual conversion, the more influence it had on that conversion.

It basically says that the channel that interacted last with a user likely contributed most to his/her decision to convert now and so it get’s more of the credit than any other channels. the channel that interacted second to last with the user get’s more credit than the channels that preceded it and so on.

The main problem with this model is the fact that by design it really undervalues the first touch and as many studies have found – first impressions matter, sometimes more so than most all interactions that come after.

4. Custom model, or: building a conversion attribution model that fits your business like a glove

Google Analytics offer the above 3 (as well as a few other) ready-made models to make it easier for marketers who don’t have the time or expertise to build their own model.

But one-size-fits-all doesn’t really work in marketing, and so Google Analytics also gives you the opportunity to build your own model.

For example: If you know that for your company last touch is super important, the most important for any conversion to occur, but so is first touch (albeit not as important). In addition, you put a lot of effort in the in-between sales “grooming” stages and you know that the engaging posts on Facebook have contributed to conversions so you want them to get some of the credit for a successful conversion.

Well, in this case you can choose to give last touch 50% of the credit, 30% to the first touch and divide the rest of the credit between the stages in between.

How would you know how exactly to divide the credit?

First of all, try out the different ready-made models Google Analytics offers  and see for yourself which channel shined in which model (example: if ‘Display’ is best at first touch, you’l see many more conversions attributed to this channel in the first touch model than in any of the others)

At this point you know the optimal stage for each of your channels in the customer journey.

Now allocate a percentage of the credit for a conversion to each of the channels based on their stage’s contribution (=importance) to achieving conversions.

*Understanding where a channel is located on the conversion path will also help in tailoring marketing messaging on each channel to the stage (if a channel performs best as a top of funnel intro channel, no need for a “buy now” CTA, rather – a “learn more” CTA would be much more appropriate.


Further reading:

I discussed the 4 main and most popular/correct conversion models.

However, there are others (linear model, last Adwords click, last non-direct click and more), to read about them and learn more about attribution models in general check out one [or both] of the following links:

Multi-channel attribution models explained by Avinash Kaushik

Multi-touch attribution in Google Analytics by


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