Analytics tip: Attribution Models 101

Google Analytics tipAs marketers, we need to understand our audiences’ motivations for buying products, downloading whitepapers, calling for a demo – whatever action meets our business goals. Once we understand customers’ activity leading up to a sale, we can focus resources on the most effective path to conversion.

This would be easy, except each customer interacts across an omni channel journey. Perhaps they’re introduced to our brand on Facebook, sign up for emails, and then click through the email to purchase on our site. Which of these channels motivated them to convert?

Attribution models assign weighted credit to touchpoints across the omni channel journey, so we can best allocate resources and understand marketing effectiveness.

Today, we’ll walk through examples of popular attribution models, and demonstrate how to use Google Analytics’ Attribution Model Comparison Tool to choose the right models for your business.

Attribution Model use case

Let’s pretend you sell barbecue grills. Mr. Grillmaster is performing a Google search for barbecue grills and clicks on your website. He signs up for your emails, but doesn’t buy anything. A few days later, he receives your email, clicks through to your site, and browses models. A week after, he clicks a Facebook post offering free 2-day shipping. Memorial Day is this weekend, and he needs the grill! Mr. Grillmaster clicks from the ad to your website, but decides he needs to talk to his wife first. A day later, Mr. Grillmaster lands back on your website via your URL and purchases the grill.

His customer journey looked like this: Organic Search, Email, Social Network, Direct.

Google Analytics Attribution Models 101

In the Last Interaction attribution model the customers’ last touchpoint receives 100% credit for the conversion. In Mr. Grillmaster’s scenario, the Direct channel receives all the glory, if we’re following a Last Interaction Attribution Model.

The Last Non-Direct Click attribution model ignores direct traffic, and instead gives 100% credit to the last channel clicked before the sale. Social Network would receive 100% credit in a Last Non-Direct Click attribution model for Mr. Grillmaster.

The Last AdWords Click attribution model assigns credit to the last AdWords or paid search click. This attribution model doesn’t make sense for Mr. Grillmaster, unless the Facebook ad was tagged for AdWords, in which case his journey would look like: Organic Search, Email, Paid Search, Direct. Paid Search would then receive 100% credit in a Last AdWords Click attribution model. (Depending how social media ads are tagged, they can fall under Social Media or Paid Ads.)

By now, you’re getting the hang of attribution models. A few more:

Similar to Last Interaction, the First Interaction attribution model attributes 100% credit to the first touchpoint—in Mr. Grillmaster’s case Organic Search.

The Linear attribution model divides credit equally between each channel. Organic Search, Email, Social Network, and Direct would each receive 25% credit for the sale for Mr. Grillmaster.

Next, the Time Decay attribution model gives predominant credit to the channels closest to the sale and less credit to channels further down the line. The majority of credit for Mr. Grillmaster’s purchase would go to the Direct channel and the least credit to Organic Search.

Finally, the Position Based attribution model assigns 40% credit to the first and last channel, and splits the remaining 20% credit evenly between the middle channels. Organic Search and Direct would each receive 40% credit for Mr. Grillmaster’s barbecue grill purchase, and Email and Social Network would each receive 10% credit.

Exploring Attribution Models in Google Analytics

Most of Google Analytic’s standard reports use Last Non-Direct Click attribution, but they now allow you to compare and contrast attribution models to decide which model delivers the most insights into your customers’ lifecycle journey. *Note, you need to set up Goals or E-commerce transactions in Google Analytics for the Model Comparison Tool to work.

In Google Analytics, scroll down to Conversions > Attribution > Model Comparison Tool. Find it:


By default, it is set to the Last Interaction model. You’ll see five channels, and both the Last Interaction Conversion number and percent (the weighted number of conversions under the selected model) and the Last Interaction Conversion Value (the weighted value credited under the selected model).

Compare another model via the Select Model dropdown. We chose to compare Last Interaction with First Interaction. The tool calculates the percent change in Conversions or Conversion value from the initial model.


Additional options: Under the Conversion dropdown, select the data to review. We’re currently looking at both Transactions (E-commerce) and Registrations (Goals). Under Type, toggle between all data or only AdWords data. Adjust The Lookback Window from one to 90 days to set the length of time tracked prior to each conversion.

The Model Comparison Tool enables you to compare up to three models at once. Add secondary dimensions, like Source/Medium, to dig deeper into the path to conversions. For example, adding the Secondary Dimension Source breaks down our Organic Search into Google, Bing, and Yahoo. This information can help us allocate ad spend across search engines.



Attribution models aim to measure the impact each channel has on conversions across our customers’ omni channel journey. They aren’t perfect and don’t simply tell us what to do. Instead, they help us analyze and make sense out of all our behavioral data across touchpoints, so we can make data-driven judgement calls. Play around with these models to tailor your marketing strategy.