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Google AdWords Attribution Models: What You Need To Know

Attribution is becoming a bit of a buzzword in Digital Marketing at the moment. There is good reason for this however. If your Google AdWords Account Manager is asking you to switch attribution models, then it’s time to sit up and listen. Understandably, you’d like to know more about Attribution, how it works and what…

Attribution ModelAttribution is becoming a bit of a buzzword in Digital Marketing at the moment. There is good reason for this however. If your Google AdWords Account Manager is asking you to switch attribution models, then it’s time to sit up and listen.

Understandably, you’d like to know more about Attribution, how it works and what it can do for you before changing your Attribution Model though, right? This is where I come in! I’ll take you through what attribution is and the different attribution models you can use to enhance your knowledge of your customer journey and their touch points.

What is Attribution?

Attribution helps you understand your customer journey and the different touch-points your customer uses to reach your website and converts. This is great steps into fully understanding the path that your customer takes and can identify any weaknesses or strengths in your multi-channel mix.

What Are Attribution Models?

An Attribution Model shows you different varieties and scales of how a conversion and revenue should be weighted. Models vary from very simple to a little more complex but the final goal is still the same – learning your customer journey and accrediting channels which has played a part in your customer journey.

There are currently 7 attribution models in total:

Last Interaction

This attribution model because it’s one of the easiest models to understand and is the most common. Google are trying to move people away from using this model so you have a more holistic view and to unify your multi-channel approach.

It’s simply the last click of the journey which would receive 100% of the credit. For example, if a user saw your PPC advert and 3 days later went back direct to your website and purchased an item then the Direct channel would receive 100% of the credit for that transaction.

It’s the attribution model I like to compare to in football terms as ‘The Goal Hanger’ as the channel takes full credit which could have potentially been a team ‘goal’.

Last Non-Direct Click

Similar to the Last Click Attribution Model, the Last Non-Direct Click Attribution Model is exactly the same but does not take into account direct traffic. With the same example we used for Last Interaction, PPC would achieve 100% of the credit as you wouldn’t be taking the direct channel into consideration.

Last AdWords Click

Last AdWords click is used predominately in PPC and is simply what campaign drove the last AdWords click.

Even if the user came through a different channel such as SEO, Google AdWords would still claim the sale within AdWords. You may be thinking that it’s a bit cheeky from Google and you’re possibly right. However, AdWords provides you with quicker costs and revenue than other platforms so if you’re in a fast-moving business where you are adding and optimising campaigns daily then it’s important to have this information at your fingertips. Otherwise, you could be spending hundreds of pounds per day on a campaign which you find out isn’t working 3 days later like you would with some other attribution models.

First Interaction

The first interaction is another simple attribution model to use though not widely used. The First Interaction Attribution Model will give credit to the first touch point of the customers journey. For example, if a display advert was the first touch point and the user then went through PPC then direct, 100% credit will be given to the first click.

Advertisers normally use this model to see how the customer originally heard about them.


Ah the Linear model… I describe this attribution model as the guy who says ‘it’s not about the winning that counts, it’s the taking part’. No one likes that guy. Everyone wants to win! However, that mindset works great for the Linear Attribution Model.

The Linear Attribution Model gives equals credit to the channels which played a part in the user’s journey to the conversion. For example, if a user came through a prospecting campaign on YouTube, to then click through on a targeted Facebook advert and follows up by clicking through organically on Google and then a few days later goes straight onto your website – all channels would receive 25% credit for the conversion.

Time Decay

The Time Decay Attribution Model is similar to the Linear Model. The difference being, you guessed it – the time.

The older the marketing channel that the user clicked on, the less credit it will receive. Despite gaining some recognition, it will not receive the same amount of credit as a channel which was closer to the conversion date. This attribution model is perfect for companies where their conversion path is over a long period of time.

Position Based

A Position-Based Attribution Model will give the main bulk of the credit for the first initial point of contact with the user and the channel which closed the sale, everything in between will receive the remaining amount.

I do like this model in particular as the first touch point is more than likely the first contributor of the journey which got the customer interested in your product or service. The converting channel was just as important as it was the deciding factor for the customer to convert. Also, I think it is great to recognise the other channels that has played a part in the customers decision making, even if that means on a lower scale. An example of using this model would be to give the first and last click 80% of the credit and then split the remaining 20% between the rest of the channels that played a part.

Closing Thoughts

Now you have all this data at your fingertips, you can start to truly understand your customers journey by comparing different attribution models.

You can begin to recognise what channels has played a part in your journey. As someone who works in Paid Search, I find it invaluable to understand what campaigns I have which have played even a small part in a user’s journey. Otherwise I may have a campaign which I think is under-performing but which is actually just on a last click model so almost tricks you to thinking that your PPC campaign hasn’t contributed any value. This works exactly the same in the multi-channel approach – a channel may be performing and contributing to your customer journey more than you imagine.

Also, a quick note that you can also build custom attribution models based on how you’d like to weight a conversion with Google Analytics if you’d prefer and also have other models such as Data Driven Attribution in Google AdWords which works really well with Google’s Smart Bidding. Have a good think on what attribution model to use for your company and always compare attribution models to give you a different perspective on how your multi-channel advertising is working.

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