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6 marketing attribution models for data-driven agencies

Marketing attribution model: marketing manager using a laptop

Key takeaways

  • Marketing attribution models offer objective methods to evaluate which channels have the biggest impact on conversions
  • Single-touch attribution models assign all the credit for a conversion to one marketing channel
  • Multi-touch attribution models assign a set amount of credit to each of the channels involved in a sales process

The customer journey is more complex than ever before. During the sales process, over half of shoppers interact with three to five often switching between devices numerous times. Building marketing campaigns that reach customers on multiple platforms is no longer optional—but is key to success.

Attribution allows your agency to identify the touchpoints that actually drive sales for clients so you can refine your marketing efforts. When you implement a marketing attribution model—which defines how you credit different channels for conversions—you can objectively evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Keep reading to learn about the models you can use and when each is most effective.

Why you need a marketing attribution model

Marketing attribution models allow you to turn your agency into a data-driven organization that makes better decisions that drive results. They enable you to get deeper insights into the performance of every channel so you can better allocate each client’s advertising budget, increase conversion rates, and optimize their return on investment (ROI).

In short, attribution modeling ensures your agency isn’t playing a guessing game. It turns every marketing touchpoint into a measurable customer interaction.

6 types of marketing attribution models


Marketing attribution model: Marketing manager using a laptop in an office


Different types of attribution models can offer different insights about your client’s sales funnel and you’re not limited to one approach. When you want to get new perspectives on your marketing activities, you can view your buyer’s journey from the lens of more than one attribution model. Here are six of the most widely used models.

1. First-touch attribution model

When a shopper makes a purchase, the first-touch attribution model assigns all the credit for the sale to the first touchpoint. For instance, if their first interaction with your client’s ecommerce brand occurred when they clicked into a blog post from a search engine, that organic search interaction would receive 100% of the credit.

This model—also known as first-click attribution—helps you learn about what marketing activities are driving people into the sales funnel and through the conversion path so you can improve lead generation.

2. Last-touch attribution model

The last-touch or last-click attribution model assigns 100% credit to the last touchpoint before a sale. If a buyer taps on a social media ad right before making a purchase, that ad click would get full credit for winning the customer.

Focusing on the last interaction helps you figure out which touchpoints are turning leads into customers. This can help you improve your sales and marketing ROI by making the bottom of the funnel—where conversions should happen—more effective.

Did you know? Yelp Advertising Partners have access to Yelp Store Visits, Yelp’s first party data attribution tool. It uses machine learning to measure how online activity on Yelp drives physical store foot traffic, predicting how many Yelp users have physically visited any given U.S. or Canada business on any given day. This helps you more easily measure impact for your clients, giving them confidence that Yelp’s advertising products are delivering real in-store value.

3. Linear attribution model

Linear attribution gives you a broader look at your sales cycle. Instead of zooming in on a single interaction, this multi-touch attribution model assigns equal credit to every touchpoint. Take this buyer’s journey for instance:

  • First touchpoint: Clicks on a paid search ad
  • Second touchpoint: Reads reviews on the brand’s Yelp Business Page
  • Third touchpoint: Messages the brand on social media
  • Fourth touchpoint: Email sales outreach leads to a sale

In this case, each of the four touchpoints would receive 25% of the credit for winning the buyer over. This is a simple way to identify all the steps shoppers take before they buy.

4. U-shaped attribution model


Marketing manager using a laptop while holding a pen

The U-shaped or position-based attribution model recognizes that not every touchpoint in the buyer’s journey has equal value. It evenly splits 80% of the credit between the first and last touchpoint. The remaining 20% of credit is evenly split among the touchpoints in between.

When using this model, your agency focuses on the point of attraction and the point of conversion, assuming that these interactions are most important for winning a sale.

5. W-shaped attribution model

The W-shaped attribution model gives equal credit—usually 30% each—to the first and last touchpoint, as well as a mid-funnel interaction. The rest of the credit is split evenly between the remaining touchpoints.

While the W-shaped model is similar to the U-shaped model, it offers more insight into how your marketing efforts are actively driving customers through the sales funnel between the first and last touchpoint. This is especially important if your sales process is long.

6. Time decay attribution model

The time decay model gives the most credit to the most recent touchpoint at the time of purchase. The further away an interaction is from the point of purchase, the lower the amount of credit it receives. As an example, here’s how you could assign credit for this buyer’s journey using the time decay model:

  • First interaction on organic search: 5%
  • Direct traffic to website: 15%
  • Yelp Business Page visit: 30%
  • Social media ad click leading to purchase: 50%

This marketing attribution model acknowledges that every step becomes more valuable than the next because it drives up the chances that the sales prospect will convert. It helps you optimize your sales funnel by choosing activities that effectively move shoppers through each stage down the conversion path.

Optimize your strategy with marketing attribution models

A marketing attribution model can help your agency focus on the channels and touchpoints that drive sales for clients. By setting rules around which channels get credit for a conversion—and how much credit they get—you can get reliable metrics that help you evaluate your efforts and make the most of every client’s marketing spend.

Selecting the right model for your goals is key to getting the attribution data you need. Different attribution models offer different insights. For instance, you can use first-touch attribution to focus on top-of-funnel efforts or use a linear model to look at the big picture of the buyer’s journey.

As your digital marketing strategies start to drive results, get our client reporting tips to ensure you’re effectively communicating your successes (and therefore, your clients’ wins) to the people you serve. Taking this next step will allow your marketing team to build mutual trust and maintain long-term client relationships.


What is a marketing attribution model?


A marketing attribution model is a framework for identifying the marketing channels and touchpoints that make the biggest impact on conversions.

What are the 4 types of attribution in marketing?


Four types of attribution in marketing include single-touch, multi-touch, data-driven, and econometric attribution. Due to their simplicity, any agency can use single-touch and multi-touch attribution models, whether manual or automated. On the other hand, data-driven attribution requires marketing analytics tools like Google Analytics to assign credit based on complex algorithms. Econometric or marketing mix models use complex data analysis techniques to account for long-term trends and offline channels.

What is an example of a marketing attribution model?


An example of a marketing attribution model is the linear model, in which every touchpoint a shopper interacts with—including email marketing campaigns, webinars, social media ads, and phone calls—receives equal credit for their purchase.

What is the best attribution model for marketing?


All attribution models can be highly effective, depending on your marketing goals. However, multi-touch models like the linear, U-shaped, W-shaped, and time decay models will give you the most comprehensive look at how each of your marketing touchpoints contribute to your sales.

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