A comprehensive guide to marketing attribution models

We all know that customers interact with a brand across multiple channels and campaigns (both online and offline) on their journey to conversion.

Surprisingly, the average B2B customer encounters a brand 36 times before becoming a customer.

With so many touchpoints, it’s difficult to truly determine how much a marketing channel or campaign influenced a purchase decision.

This is where marketing attribution comes into play.

Marketing attribution provides insights into the most effective touchpoints along the buyer journey.

In this comprehensive guide, we simplify everything you need to know to get started with marketing attribution models, including an overview of your options and how to use them.

What is marketing attribution?

Marketing attribution is the rule (or set of rules) that specifies how credit for a conversion is distributed across a buyer’s journey.

How much credit each touchpoint should get is one of the more complicated marketing issues, which is why there are so many different types of attribution models in use today.

6 Common Attribution Models

There are six common attribution models, and each distributes conversion value differently across the buyer’s journey.

Don’t worry. We’ll help you understand all of the models below so you can decide which one is best for your needs.

Note: The examples in this guide use Google Analytics 4 cross-channel rules-based models.

Rule-based across channels means direct traffic is ignored. This may not be the case if you use alternative analysis software.

1. Last click

The last-click attribution model gives all credit to the marketing touchpoint that occurs right before the conversion.

Last Click helps you understand which marketing efforts are driving sales.

For example, a user first discovers your brand by watching a YouTube ad for 30 seconds (engaged view).

Later that day, the same user googles your brand and clicks through an organic search result.

The following week, this user is shown a retargeting ad on Facebook, clicks through, and signs up for your email newsletter.

The next day, they click through the email and become a customer.

With a last-click attribution model, 100% of the credit for that conversion is attributed to the email, the touchpoint that closed the sale.

2. First click

First click is the opposite of the last click attribution model.

All credit for a possible conversion is given to the first interaction.

The first click helps you understand which channels create brand awareness.

It doesn’t matter if the customer clicked through a retargeting ad and later converted through an email visit.

If the customer initially engaged with your brand via an engaged YouTube view, Paid Video gets full credit for that conversion as the journey has begun.


Linear attribution provides a view of your marketing strategy as a whole.

This model is especially useful when you need to maintain awareness throughout the buyer journey.

The credit for the conversion is split evenly across all channels a customer interacts with.

Let’s look at our example: Each of the four touchpoints (Paid Video, Organic, Paid Social and Email) all get 25% of the conversion value because they are all credited equally.

4. Time Lapse

Time decay is useful for short sales cycles like a promotion because it takes into account when each touch point occurred.

The first touch gets the least credit, while the last click gets the most.

Using our example:

  • Paid video (YouTube engagement view) would receive 10% of the credit.
  • Organic search would get 20%.
  • Paid Social (Facebook Ads) gets 30%.
  • Emails done on the day of conversion get 40%.

Note: Google Analytics 4 distributes this credit based on a seven-day half-life.

5. Position based

The position-based (U-shaped) approach splits the credit for a sale between the two most important interactions: how a customer discovered your brand and the interaction that generated a conversion.

With position-based attribution modeling, paid video (YouTube engagement view) and email would each get 40% of the credit because they were the first and last interactions in our example.

Organic search and Facebook ad would each get 10%.

6. Data Driven (Cross Channel Linear)

Google Analytics 4 features a unique data-driven attribution model that uses machine learning algorithms.

Credit is assigned based on how each touchpoint changes the estimated conversion probability.

It uses each advertiser’s data to calculate the actual contribution of an interaction for each conversion event.

Best Marketing Attribution Model

There isn’t necessarily one “best” marketing attribution model, and there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one.

Comparing performance under different attribution models helps you understand the importance of multiple touchpoints along your buyer journey.

Model comparison in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

If you want to see how performance changes by attribution model, you can easily do so with GA4.

To access the model comparison in Google Analytics 4, click on “Advertising” in the left menu and then under “Attribution” on “Model comparison”.

Comparison of the GA4 marketing attribution modelScreenshot of GA4, July 2022

By default, the conversion events are all, the date range is the last 28 days, and the dimension is the default channel grouping.

Start by choosing the date range and conversion event you want to analyze.

Select GA4 Model Comparison_Event and Date RangeScreenshot of GA4, July 2022

You can add a filter to show a specific campaign, geographic location, or device by using the “Edit comparison” option in the top-right corner of the report.

GA4 model comparison filterScreenshot of GA4, July 2022

Select the dimension to report on, then use the drop-down menus to select the attribution models to compare.

Select GA4 Model Comparison_DimensionScreenshot of GA4, July 2022

GA4 model comparison example

Suppose you are asked to attract new customers to the website.

You could open Google Analytics 4 and compare the “last click” model to the “first click” model to find out which marketing efforts put customers on the path to conversion.

GA4 model comparison_gain new customersScreenshot of GA4, July 2022

In the example above, we might choose to further investigate email and paid search as they appear to be more effective in getting customers on the path to conversion than closing the sale.

How to change the Google Analytics attribution model 4

If you choose a different attribution model for your business, you can edit your attribution settings by clicking the gear icon in the lower-left corner.

Open mapping settings under the properties column and click the Reporting attribution model drop down menu.

Here you can choose from the six cross-channel attribution models discussed above or the Ad Preferred Last Click model.

Preferred Ads fully credits the last Google Ads click on the conversion path.

Edit the GA4 attribution settingsScreenshot of GA4, July 2022

Please note that attribution model changes apply to historical and future data.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to determine where and when a lead or purchase occurred. The hard part is defining the reason for a lead or purchase.

Comparing attribution model reports helps us understand how the overall buyer journey helped the conversion.

By taking a closer look at this information, marketers can maximize ROI.

Any questions? Let us know Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Featured image: Andrii Yalanskyi/Shutterstock

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