Multi-Touch Attribution Guide: How to Build Better Models

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • Multi-touch attribution is a marketing attribution model that provides insight into what role each touchpoint played in the conversion event.
  • Multi-channel attribution modeling helps marketers optimize the conversion funnel.
  • Use different attribution models to customize how much each touchpoint contributes to a conversion.

Marketing attribution has always been hard to figure out. Did your airport banner ads convert folks into customers? What about your Super Bowl commercial? Or your $50 million digital advertising budget?

To be fair, some channels are easier to measure than others. But the real challenge is figuring out how all your marketing campaigns work together to drive more revenue.

Multi-touch attribution is the solution.

Multi-channel attribution gives you the tools to evaluate each touchpoint along the customer journey. As a result, you can fine-tune your budget allocation and make better marketing investments. You’ll be able to uncover high-efficiency marketing channels as well as areas of lower value relative to your marketing spend.

Even better, multi-touch attribution modeling lets you diagnose weaknesses in your conversion funnel. For example, you might discover you’re invisible at the top of the funnel when customers research solutions. Or you may realize you’re underinvested in the middle of the funnel when consumers narrow down their list of options.

In this article, I’ll explain the different types of multi-touch attribution models as well as specific use cases for each one.

What is multi-touch attribution?

Multi-Touch Attribution

Definition

Multi-touch attribution (or multi-channel attribution) is a marketing attribution model that provides insight into what role each touchpoint played in the conversion event.

The buyer’s journey has become phygital, so your marketing measurement process must account for many different marketing touchpoints.

Multi-touch attribution can be a more robust and granular way to measure marketing performance than first-touch or last-touch attribution.

Multi-touch vs first-touch attribution

First-touch is a single-touch attribution model. It gives all the credit for a conversion to the first touchpoint a customer interacted with.

For example, if a customer’s first interaction with a company is a Facebook ad, that ad gets all the credit for the conversion. It ignores all subsequent touchpoints between the first engagement and the conversion.

There are a few advantages to using first-touch attribution. Firstly, it’s relatively easy to set up. It also allows marketers to understand which channels draw prospects into the marketing funnel.

Of course, the problem with this model is that the first touchpoint is rarely what leads to conversion. Rather, the customer typically engages with multiple touchpoints across the entire marketing funnel.

After they click your ad, they may read an article, sign up for a webinar, and receive an email campaign. It could take 5 – 10 more touchpoints before the customer makes a purchase.

The first-touch model focuses almost exclusively on how prospects enter the marketing funnel rather than all that happens after that point.

The multi-touch attribution model attempts to account for all the touchpoints that ultimately lead to a conversion.

Multi-touch vs last-touch attribution

Last-touch attribution is another common marketing attribution model. This model gives the credit for a conversion to the last click a customer interacted with prior to purchasing.

So, for example, if a customer’s last touchpoint with a company is a digital marketing email, that email gets all the credit for the conversion, regardless of how many previous touchpoints the customer had with the brand.

This model allows marketers to identify the channels that are most effective at creating conversions.

However, like the first-touch model, the last-touch attribution model fails to adequately encompass the entire customer journey. It focuses heavily on the bottom of the funnel and the ultimate touchpoint that precedes a conversion.

Benefits of multi-touch attribution

There are many benefits to using multi-touch attribution, including:

  • Holistic view of the customer journey: Multi-touch attribution allows marketers to see all the touchpoints that led to a conversion, rather than just the first or last one. This provides a more complete picture of the customer journey and how each touchpoint fits into it.
  • Granular channel performance insights: Multi-touch attribution provides more granular data to help you optimize each touchpoint in the customer journey. This allows marketers to see which touchpoints are most effective and adjust those that are underperforming. It also enables marketers to optimize their marketing mix, devoting the greatest portion of it to the channels that are generating the highest ROI.
  • Improved cross-channel optimization: Multi-touch attribution makes it easier to optimize campaigns that span multiple channels. It helps marketers understand which channels contribute to conversion.

Multi-touch attribution challenges

Of course, the multi-attribution model is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is data reconciliation. It’s incredibly hard to track every single touchpoint a customer interacts. That’s especially true if those interactions take place across multiple marketing channels and platforms over time.

As an example, a prospect first hears about you on a podcast. They then click on a Facebook ad because they remember your brand from the podcast. The Facebook ad would be considered the first interaction, not the podcast.

Another challenge is that multi-touch attribution can be more complex to set up and track than other attribution models. It requires more data and greater integration between different marketing channels and platforms.

There are tools that can help you make sense of the fragmented customer journey. But the more marketing channels you use the more complex the data becomes. In addition, the software often requires expert professional services in order to get the attribution models activated properly.

Additionally, when using the multi-touch model, it can be difficult to know how much weight to give each touchpoint. Ideally, the touchpoints that have the biggest impact on conversions should receive the lion’s share of marketing spend. However, identifying those touchpoints isn’t always easy and assigning your attribution weightings can be error-prone.

Multi-touch attribution models

Due to the challenges and complexities noted above, digital marketers have devised various multi-touch attribution models in an effort to properly measure the effect of individual touchpoints.

Here are the most common types of attribution models:

Linear attribution

The linear attribution model gives each touchpoint equal credit in the conversion process. This means that each interaction a customer has with your brand is given the same importance in terms of calculating the ROI of marketing efforts.

The linear attribution model is simple to understand and easy to implement. All that’s required is the ability to identify all the touchpoints that ultimately lead to a conversion. However, the model does not consider the relative impact of different touchpoints on conversion rate. This can make it difficult to properly allocate marketing spend.

Time decay attribution

The time decay multi-touch attribution model gives more weight to touchpoints that occur closer in time to conversion. The logic behind this is that touchpoints that happen just before conversion are more likely to have influenced the decision than those that occurred further back in the customer journey.

This model is more complex than linear attribution, as it requires tracking not only all the touchpoints that lead to a conversion, but also the time intervals between each touchpoint and the conversion.

The time decay model is a good option for companies whose prospects don’t usually make a purchase until very late in the customer journey. The touchpoints they encounter at the end of the purchase process have an outsized effect on whether conversions happen and should be weighted higher in light of this.

U-shaped attribution

The U-shaped multi-touch attribution model gives the most weight to the first and last touchpoints a customer has with your brand. These touchpoints are seen as being most influential in the conversion process.

Put another way, the initial touchpoint creates a strong first impression that draws prospects into the conversion funnel. The final touchpoint is what finally seals the deal and convinces prospects to choose your brand over your competitors.

Typically, the first and last touchpoints are each given 40% of the credit for creating conversions, with the middle touchpoints splitting the remaining 20%.

W-shaped attribution

The W-shaped multi-touch attribution model is similar to the U-shaped model, in that the first and last touchpoints receive the majority of the conversion credit. However, the middle touchpoint is seen as also being influential in leading prospects further down the sales funnel.

This model recognizes the first and last touchpoints as being critical to generating and converting leads, while also recognizing that there is often a key inflection point in the middle of the funnel that determines whether someone continues on the customer journey.

Custom attribution

If none of the above models are a good fit for a brand, you can create a custom multi-touch attribution model. This involves assigning different weights to different touchpoints based on their impact on conversion.

In order to create a custom model, you need to understand all the data across your different marketing channels. You also need to know how prospects engage with various touchpoints.

Customizing your multi-touch attribution model is a great way to maximize your marketing data. It allows you to tailor the model to your specific needs and ensures that all touchpoints are given the appropriate credit for generating conversions.

Even though the different attribution models may seem complex, it’s important for digital marketers to understand how each function.

How to implement multi-touch attribution

It’s one thing to understand how multi-touch attribution models work. However, implementing them in your business requires an action plan. To get started, follow these steps:

Establish KPIs and models

The first step is to establish the KPIs that you want to track in your multi-touch attribution model. These KPIs should include every touchpoint that ultimately contributes to conversions, both online and offline. KPIs at every part of the sales funnel should be included.

For example, at the top of the funnel you might measure traffic from organic search, overall website traffic, impressions and clicks on social media ads, Google ads, and leads generated by TOFU channels.

In the middle of the funnel, you might track things like webinar views, whitepapers downloaded, or lookbooks viewed. You can also track the number of page views certain blog posts on your website receive.

Finally, at the end of the funnel, you might monitor touchpoints like consultations scheduled, demos booked, product pages viewed, requests for pricing, comparisons to competitors, etc.

Once you’ve identified your KPIs, you need to decide which attribution models you think best match the consumer journey. To be clear, this may not be immediately clear when first getting started.

You may be able to make some educated guesses based on your sales cycle and the different types of campaigns you run, but until you do a deep dive into your analytics you won’t have the full picture. That’s okay. Part of the entire process involves optimizing and adjusting as you get more data.

Gather your team

The next step is to gather all the relevant individuals who will play a part in the process. This may include marketing analysts or analytics managers. Basically, anyone who is responsible for collecting and analyzing data from all channels.

Buy-in from the various budget stakeholders who have a say in whether specific actions and expenses get approval.

And finally, you’ll need to involve your marketing team, who can optimize the different touchpoints based on the insights gained from the data.

Deploy analytics software

If you haven’t already, now is the time to deploy analytics software with multi-touch attribution modeling capabilities. Doing so will make it possible to collect all the attribution data you need in one place, which is necessary for effective analysis.

When dealing with a large amount of data, you need a way of sorting and collating it into clear, understandable, easily measurable metrics.

There are several platforms that allow you to perform these tasks, including:

  • Google Analytics
  • C3 Metrics
  • Neustar
  • LeadsRx
  • Ruler
  • Branch
  • Snowflake
  • HubSpot
  • Adobe Analytics

Choose an attribution solution that offers both granular data about different conversion paths as well as big picture information about important trends.

Multi-touch attribution analysis

Once you have your data, it’s time to start mining it for key insights. You’ll want to look at things like:

  • How effective are your various marketing channels in helping prospects take the next step toward conversion?
  • Are there any channels that stand out as performing particularly well or poorly?
  • How do different channels work together to influence conversions?
  • Are there any touchpoints that consistently act as a roadblock to conversion?
  • What is the typical length of your sales cycle? How does this vary by channel?
  • Are there any changes you can make to your website or individual web pages that would improve conversions?
  • Are there any touchpoints that create a significant drop-off or spike in engagement?

As part of your evaluation process, ask the following questions of every touchpoint: does this move prospects toward conversion, and if so, by how much?

These questions will help you identify areas for improvement and where you are doing well.

Test and optimize

The final step is to use strategic A/B testing to optimize your touchpoints for maximum results. The tests you run and the optimizations you make will depend largely on the insights provided by your data analysis.

For example, you may find that your email marketing is producing tepid results. These results may stem from the middle and bottom of your content marketing funnel. This can mean that the email content doesn’t match the needs and desires of prospects at those stages.

You could then test various emails to determine what resonates with prospects and compels them to take the desired action.

Or you may find a page on your site attracts a significant amount of organic traffic for a valuable keyword. But only a small percentage of that traffic converts to leads. A simple hypothesis is that the content on that page doesn’t align with the search intent behind the keyword. Study the content of top-ranking pages for that search query to improve your intent. Then optimize your page based on that intent and see if the results improve.

If you want to provide a superior digital customer experience, increase your overall conversion rate, and generate a higher ROI on your marketing spend, multi-touch attribution marketing is essential.

Multi-touch attribution FAQs

What is multi-touch attribution?

Multi-touch attribution (or multi-channel attribution) is a marketing attribution model that provides insight into what role each touchpoint played in the conversion event.

What are the benefits of multi-touch attribution?

Multi-touch attribution gives you a more holistic view of the end-to-end customer journey. It also helps you improve conversions through cross-channel optimization.