attribution model

Choosing the Right Attribution Model for Your Startup

Let’s being with a definition. An attribution model is the set of rules that determines which of the multiple interactions a user has with a website gets credit for converting him/her into a customer. It’s a fairly simple concept that is often the subject of much debate within marketing teams at large organizations. Google Analytics offers 7 different attribution models to choose from, the default one giving credit to the last non-direct click of the user before converting. Deciding on the right model for your company is difficult enough when you offer a simple, generic product or service. When you’re marketing a startup, this can become exponentially more complicated. A full-fledged marketing campaign for a startup usually includes content marketing, PR, social media and advertising. Also, the time lag between the user’s first engagement and time of conversion can be many months. Choosing which interactions (and marketing team members) get credit for conversions has major implications on employee bonuses, the allocation of marketing dollars, and the overall strategy of the company.

attribution model

To further complicate things, startups often need to educate their users about their product or service before they have the chance to convert them. This often means re-engaging with users numerous times with articles, videos and ads until they finally get the value proposition and are intrigued enough to give it a try. Below are some of the attribution models we recommend to startups we work with:

  1.  Last Non-Direct Click – This model gives credit to the last traffic source that brought the user to the website prior to the conversion, not including direct traffic (type-in or bookmark traffic). We recommend this to startups that focus mainly on offline marketing efforts. Users find out about them through conferences, word-of-mouth, podcasts, PR and other channels. By the time users reach the startup’s website, they are usually a bit closer to the point of converting, so giving attribution to the final touchpoint that was able to convince them to finally convert can provide valuable insights.
  2. First Interaction – This model gives 100% of the credit to the initial touchpoint, the traffic source that first turned a user from a stranger into a potential sales lead. This is best suited for startups that have diverse, multi-channel marketing campaigns aimed at driving customers and building awareness. When many different types of marketing efforts are working in parallel to bring people in, and re-marketing campaigns are being used to follow up with these users and convert them, we recommend that marketers optimize based on which traffic sources are best at initially getting the attention of users that end up converting.
  3. First Paid Ad Interaction – This model gives all the credit to the first interaction the user had with a paid ad. Startups that are serious about building and scaling the advertising component of their marketing efforts need to attribute as many conversions as possible to the campaigns with the most potential for growth, i.e. generic campaigns that target new users. By giving credit to the first ad as opposed to follow-up ad interaction such as re-marketing campaigns or paid search ads for their brand terms, marketers are able to optimize those ad channels that are best at hunting down new leads. Note that this is not one of the 7 pre-defined attribution models offered by Google Analytics. Luckily it can be easily created as a custom model by going into Google Analytics, clicking Conversions -> Attribution -> Model Comparison -> Select Model -> Create New Custom Model. When the popup below appears, select the baseline model “First Interaction” and set the medium to equal “cpc.”

setting up first ad interaction attribtution model

The above attribution models are not perfect, but none are. There will inevitably be scenarios in which attribution will be given to user interactions that did not play a major role in persuading the user to convert. But if you choose your attribution model wisely, you should be able to keep these to a minimum.

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