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A Beginner’s Guide To Marketing Attribution – Part Two

Welcome back to A Beginner’s Guide To Marketing Attribution. Part 2 of this piece assumes you’ve read Part 1. If not, do that first here or read the entire 3-part series in a single pdf here. Once armed with a high-level understanding of attribution, let’s dig deeper and learn about models and choosing one to fit your business.

Fine Tuning Marketing Attribution & Understanding Your Full Marketing Mix

All analytics platforms have proprietary tools and methods of recording conversions and attributing them to sources (i.e. marketing channels). There are also full marketing attribution solutions available for purchase. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, here are some basic principles to keep in mind.


A “touch” is when a user engages with a marketing tactic. Click on a search ad: touch; click on a display banner: touch; click an email link: touch. Marketing attribution models assign value to each touch.

A simple model might look at only the last touch – the one that actually led to the conversion. Other times it’s better to focus on the touch that brought a user to your website (first touch). More complex models look at every touch, specific touches, certain touches. The option you choose should reflect the specifics of your business, conversion funnel, and process. Typical “touch” models are:

  • First Touch – the first vehicle a user touched that led to a conversion.
  • Last Touch – the last vehicle a user touched that led to a conversion.
  • Last non-direct touch – the last non “direct” vehicle a user touched that led to conversion. Direct being a user typing the url directly into their web browser.
  • First non-direct touch – the first non “direct” vehicle a user touched that led to conversion. Direct being a user typing the url directly into their web browser.
  • Linear – all vehicles touched that led to conversion get equal credit for the conversion.
  • Time decay – Similar to linear in that all channels that led to a conversion get credit but, the amount of credit is adjusted by timing. A touch two weeks before conversion receives less credit than a touch that happened the day before conversion.
  • Position based – Marketing vehicles get varying degrees of credit for the conversion based on where in the funnel the touch happened. First and last touches generally get more credit than those in between.
  • Custom – An advanced model, defined specifically by your team specifically for your business.

Each model opens a unique window into the efficacy of your marketing program, which is why the model needs to reflect the business. It’s also a reflection of your businesses approach – which elements of marketing your team believes should be emphasized.

Marketing Attribution Windows

Just as important as what led to conversion (touches) is the time when a conversion happens. In some cases it’s prudent to grant a marketing action credit (for conversion) three-months after it happened. In other scenarios, looking beyond a 1-day window makes no sense.

There’s no ‘right’ window. It’s dependent on the product, business model and your team’s marketing program. For example, an FMCG e-tailor might prefer a 1- or 3-day window because a consumer is making a purchase decision in real time and looking back further muddies the waters. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a Fortune 500 enterprise selling large B2B software solutions might choose a 90-day window to capture a more complete picture of their marketing efforts.

If enough data is available, it’s best to make a data-based decision when choosing a marketing attribution window. Analysis can identify the typical conversion time for your process which influences how you view attribution timeframes. It’s also worth exploring whether all channels use the same window or if each channel should be considered independently and have unique attribution windows. For example – paid search over a 7-day window, display banners at 1-day, social remarketing at 30-day.

Some standard marketing attribution windows are:

  • 1-day
  • 3- day
  • 7-day
  • 30-day
  • 90-day

Marketing attribution windows are often overlooked when building a model though it is essential to its effectiveness.

View-Through Conversions

Important to note that an “engagement” is not the only way to influence a conversion and there are cases where examining other methods of influence are important.

In digital marketing, channels that get relatively little engagement like video advertising often have difficulty advocating for budget in a performance-driven world. As a way of illustrating their value, ad networks introduced the concept of “view-through” conversions.

In this framework, value is assigned based on influence, not engagement. Consider the funny cat video you watched on YouTube this morning and the pre-roll video ad you were forced to watch beforehand. Did you click? Doubt it. But, you saw the ad and it had some impact – positive or negative – on your decision to make a purchase with the vendor. If, later on, you returned to the website through a search engine and made a purchase (assuming systems are integrated), YouTube will identify the view, the purchase and then allocate some credit to the ad as a “view-through conversion.”

Though more challenging to attribute, this logic applies to non-digital channels as well. For instance, a potential customer visits your event booth and shares no personal info. Two weeks later the same person visits your website and schedules a demo. A standard model would attribute the conversion to “direct” (i.e. no marketing channel) when, in fact, the event booth should get the credit. If your systems have a view-through conversion-type capability built out, when the lead enters your sales CRM and the Sales Development Representative (SDR) team notes their event attendance, data will sync and in the next periodic report, the event should get some credit.

Cool huh? At this point, it’s best to just know this is out there and something to consider incorporating into a broader, more sophisticated marketing attribution strategy later. Solutions that take these into account get complicated so it’s best to set this up with the help of a professional.


Similar in complexity and difficulty to view-through conversion attribution is cross-device conversion attribution.

Cross-device marketing attribution attempts to capture and quantify the multi-device reality we all live in. Often folks have multiple personal and professional devices and don’t limit browsing habits to a single one. Browsing behavior is captured in sessions on individual devices. Cookies allow systems to attribute actions across multiple sessions (visits to a website) on a single device in a single browser. Cross-device attribution attempts to stitch everything together.

Consider this scenario: Sarah travels to a conference, discovers a great new product and visits the website through a paid search ad (SEM) on her personal phone. That evening, back at the hotel, she checks out the website on her work laptop (direct – typing the URL into the browser). Monday, in the office and using a desktop PC, Sarah does a search (she forgot the URL), clicks through the organic result (SEO) and continues her research. That evening at home she shows her husband the website on their personal tablet (via paid search query – SEM – again forgetting the URL). A week later, on her desktop at work, having forgotten all about the great new product, she sees a banner ad (remarketing), clicks and schedules a demo.

Which marketing channel gets attributed with the conversion?

Assuming a long attribution window: in a last-click model the remarketing banner gets credit while in a first-touch model paid search (SEM) gets credited. However, neither option captures the totality of marketing actions that influenced conversion. Which, as a marketer and business leader, is the goal of marketing attribution.

In this example, the marketing channels that influenced the conversion are: the event, SEM, direct, organic search (SEO), remarketing banners. The devices used are: personal mobile phone, work laptop, work desktop and personal tablet – a lot of marketing channels and devices.

Cross-device attribution attempts to create a single user profile (Sarah’s), across all devices and browsers, to understand the complete customer journey. Backend configuration is required and any solution assumes identifying information is not being blocked – cookies, device IDs, logged-in accounts, etc.

This is part of an expert-level marketing attribution model. It is however, one of the great challenges in all digital marketing and attribution.

We’ll pause here for a breather but, be sure to come back and read Part 3 or, if you’d rather, download the full 3-part series as a single pdf here.

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