Add3 – Digital Marketing Agency with offices in Seattle & Portland

What Is Attribution?

Attribution is the tracking of a customer’s actions that occur before he or she converts. For example, in Google AdWords, attribution is the click path a user takes before becoming a converted customer.

The Challenge

During my time as a search engine marketer, I have managed clients who look at conversions and their values in different ways. Some clients use first click attribution, some use last click, and some assign a percentage value per click. There are different ways to calculate conversions, so which model should a company use to measure the TRUE value of a conversion? Should the company give “first click” the conversion because the customer originated there or should the company give “last click” the conversion because that is how it has been done for so many years?

A Real-Life Example of Attribution

I have tried to explain the relationship across different campaigns (branded and unbranded) and marketing channels to clients for months, explaining how they all work together and how one campaign or marketing channel can significantly impact the other. The clients’ reactions were always the same: “How do you know this? Can you show us how this can be?”  Well guess what, now I can! AdWords recently released an attribution modeling tool that allows search engine marketers to compare different models of attribution.

The example below outlines “first click” vs “last click” modeling for an online retail customer.


By looking at the “first click” model, unbranded conversions increased by 24% over a two month period. In the same attribution model, branded conversions decreased by 16%.  As one can see, overall conversions did not change, but the way one looks at unbranded first click and branded last click conversions did change. Suddenly, that unbranded CPA was not so high anymore.

First Click, Last Click, Who Gives a… Well, I Give a…

I am not here to take a stand on which model, first click or last click, is better, but I am here to inform you to look at all attribution models. As is evident, there is no right way to look at attribution but every angle needs to be looked at. Just because unbranded terms are not converting in the last click model, does not mean they are not helping to drive sales. The way users shop and interact over the Internet continues to change every day. Each touch point needs to be given credit and assigned a value or else overall performance will be hindered.

Google’s new attribution modeling tool can help you tell the story to your boss or client much like it did for me. Next time they ask “show me how” you can and they will soon be saying “I love this” much like mine did.

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