Marketing attribution tracking strategies and models

illustrated folded map to symbolize the customer journey


  • Attribution is a challenge for any modern business. But a successful strategy is possible with the right models and a dedicated approach.
  • When approaching attribution marketing for the first time, there are a handful of major attribution models that you’ll likely want to focus on.
  • As your business evolves over time, your preferred attribution models may also change based on your marketing strategy, or new approaches to evaluating ROI and measuring marketing success through different KPIs.

The digital age has made attribution marketing tracking incredibly complex, with many different channels playing nuanced and ever-changing roles in a single customer conversion.

That complexity can discourage some marketing departments from building a strategy to measure and attribute marketing channels across their campaigns. But given the importance of understanding the performance and complementary relationships of your marketing channels, this decision is short-sighted and jeopardizes long-term gains in performance.

Attribution is a challenge for any modern business. But a successful strategy is possible with the right models and a dedicated approach. Here’s what you need to know.

First things first: When to use attribution marketing tracking

Anytime you’re running a full marketing strategy for your brand, you should be using attribution modeling to understand how your channels are performing, both in isolation and in conjunction with one another.

But the attribution model you use can depend on the stage your business is in, and your marketing goals. Your business will need to determine whether it would benefit most from a single-touch model or a multi-touch approach. From there, each method offers a number of attribution models you might want to try.

Bear in mind that these models may significantly differ from one another when valuing the ROI of your marketing channels. Because these ROI figures can be so diverse, it’s important to sit down with marketing and sales leaders, as well as executives involved in strategic decision-making, to ensure that the attribution model you choose uses logic that is relevant to your company’s marketing strategy, as well as your goals and established KPIs.

And as your business evolves over time, your preferred attribution models may also change based on your marketing strategy, or new approaches to evaluating ROI and measuring marketing success through different KPIs.

Top attribution models to consider

A quick Google search will reveal different attribution models, many of which offer minute differences from one another — and when you’re just getting started with attribution, those options can be overwhelming.

As you get your feet wet, though, there are a handful of major attribution models that you’ll likely want to focus on when choosing the right model for your business. Although it’s far from an exhaustive list, here are a few popular attribution models that may offer a good starting point for your company.

First Touch

This is a straightforward attribution model that helps your marketing team understand the channels and campaigns responsible for starting a relationship that leads to a newly converted customer. In first-touch attribution, 100% of the credit for a conversion goes to the first marketing interaction your business had with the customer.

Even if a customer ends up interacting with eight different marketing channels and ultimately converts after reading an email newsletter, the very first point of contact — a paid search ad, let’s say — is attributed to the conversion.

Although this simple approach presents obvious limitations — as is true with any single-touch approach — first-touch attribution can be effective in helping you understand your top-of-funnel marketing campaigns and their role in creating value for your overall marketing strategy.

Last Touch

In a reversal of the first-touch model, last-touch attribution places all of the credit for a conversion with the marketing channel or campaign that directly preceded the conversion. In the scenario outlined above, 100% of the credit in a last-touch attribution model would be given to the email newsletter that led to the conversion.

In the same way that first-touch attribution helps you study the performance of your top-of-funnel marketing performance, last-touch attribution can teach your marketing department valuable lessons about your bottom-of-funnel marketing strategies, including how awareness-level campaigns should steer prospects toward bottom-of-funnel channels and campaigns that achieve the highest conversion rates.

Last Non-Direct Click

This single-touch attribution model rewards full credit for a conversion to the last non-direct click or engagement prior to a conversion. The purpose of this attribution model is to give credit to the last touch that didn’t involve a consumer directly visiting your site to make a purchase.

For example, suppose a prospect views a social media ad for your business that offers a buy-one, get-one promotion. The consumer clicks, browses your inventory, and then leaves your website without making a purchase. But three days later, the consumer returns by visiting your website directly, fills up his cart, and completes a purchase.

In a last-touch model, the website would receive credit for that sale. But marketers may argue that credit should actually go to the paid social media campaign, which provided a crucial referral that was likely responsible for the conversion. That’s the benefit of using a last non-direct click approach.


Unlike the aforementioned single-touch models, linear attribution is a multi-touch model that divides credit for a conversion equally among every interaction involved in the path to purchase.

Marketers often choose this attribution model because it’s simple to apply and understand, and it’s also more fair to the full customer journey than what many single-touch attribution models offer. But linear attribution still has disadvantages due to its oversimplification of multi-touch experiences, as well as the equal weight it gives to older marketing engagements in contrast to newer ones that likely played a more crucial role in driving a conversion.

Time Decay

Remember what we said about linear attribution overvaluing dated marketing engagements? Time-decay attribution is a response to those limitations. With the time-decay model, the credit attributed to marketing channels is distributed unequally, with the most recent engagements receiving the highest share of credit, and the first points of contact receiving the smallest share.

This model more accurately reflects the value that more recent and lower-funnel engagements have in driving conversions for your business. Yet it can also drastically undervalue the first touch in your customer journey, which often plays a critical role in laying the foundation for a conversion.


Want to give due credit to the first and last touches in a customer’s path to conversion? That’s exactly what the U-shaped model aims to achieve. With U-shaped attribution, 40% of the credit for a conversion is split evenly between the first and last touchpoints, with the remaining 20% being split evenly among all other touchpoints, regardless of how many touches that may be.

Proponents of the U-shaped model argue that by giving a significant amount of credit for the first and last touches, it succeeds in attributing value to the two most important points of engagement in any customer journey. But it can also oversimplify the customer journey and limit your understanding of the many steps and points of contact often required to achieve a conversion.


In addition to crediting the first and last touches, the W-shaped model also attributes credit to the lead creation stage of the marketing journey. Thirty percent of the conversion value is delivered to each of these channels, with the remaining 10% being split between all other interactions.

In general, W-shaped attribution improves upon the U-shaped model by creating valuable context for understanding the full customer journey. But it still oversimplifies this process to some degree, and it is also more complicated in design than all of the aforementioned models, which can deter businesses from embracing the W-shaped model as their first method.

Attribution marketing tracking strategies

Marketing attribution can take some time for your business to master. But you can speed up the learning curve, and improve the initial quality of your marketing attribution data, by implementing the following tips:

  • Understand the intent of the attribution model you choose. Talk with other marketing stakeholders to identify your best attribution models and outline the reasoning for each. Choose an attribution model that aligns with your marketing goals, as well as your desire to better understand certain aspects of your marketing strategy.
  • Invest in marketing attribution tools that can do the heavy lifting for you. From tracking tools to attribution calculations, marketing attribution can be largely handled by marketing technology.
  • Combine marketing attribution with testing and op we have more attribution content we can use to promote. Building strong internal linking to create a cluster of attribution content is important to establishing our authority on this topic.

Your attribution tools should fill all of these data gaps while seamlessly integrating with call tracking software and other marketing analytics solutions. Finally, make sure your attribution tools can handle multi-channel complexity on the scale you need — both now and as you grow in the future.

Gain better visibility into your customer journey

Attribution marketing tracking offers powerful insights into how leads are advancing through the customer journey — and how different marketing channels are helping, or hindering, that progress. With those insights in hand, you can steer your marketing strategy toward better customer engagement, and a better ROI.