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The Different Types of Multi-Touch Attribution Modeling [INFOGRAPHIC]

Jimmy Shang

Director of Marketing Analytics and Insights @ AdRoll

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While it’s every marketer’s dream, it’s rare for a consumer to purchase something at first click. This is why multi-touch attribution is an important marketing measurement tool—it evaluates the impact of each touchpoint leading up to a conversion. Using this method, marketers can get an in-depth look into consumers’ experiences and devote spend to the channels that provide the highest ROI.

What is Multi-Touch Attribution?

The multi-touch attribution model is a type of marketing attribution that gauges a conversion’s value across multiple customer touchpoints. These can include ads, searches, social media engagement, emails, or other channels customers may use on their way to a conversion.

You can use multi-touch marketing attribution to determine which marketing channels or campaigns lead to conversions. As you understand each touchpoint’s role in the customer journey, you can allocate your resources appropriately. 

Within multi-touch attribution, you have access to several different models. The use of these models depends largely on the customer journey and your specific goals and strategies.

Example of multi-touch attribution

Need a multi-touch attribution example? Consider a marketing campaign that involves organic social media posts on Instagram, a Facebook ad, a display ad, and an email newsletter CTA. You have a customer who clicks on the Instagram post, sees and clicks the Facebook ad, navigates off the site, and comes back a few days later thanks to the Google display ad. 

Only after clicking on all three do they make a purchase. In the linear model of attribution, each of the touchpoints would receive 33.3% credit.

Last Touch vs. Multi-Touch Attribution

There are two different ways to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing channels and tactics: last touch and multi-touch attribution.

Last touch attribution credits a conversion to the final touchpoint before the conversion occurs. Let’s imagine a customer clicks a Facebook ad, then an email link, and then makes a purchase. In the last touch model, the email link gets 100% of the credit because it was the last touch. Pretty simple, right?

Even though last touch attribution is straightforward and easy to implement, it oversimplifies the customer journey. In addition, it might overvalue certain channels and undervalue others.

On the other hand, multi-touch attribution models divide the credit among multiple touchpoints along your customer’s journey. In the same scenario we mention above, the Facebook ad and email link would receive credit for the conversion. Even if you add steps to the process—such as a Google display ad or website links—those different steps would see credit.

When Should I Use Multi-Touch Attribution?

You’re probably already using a multi-touch attribution model because marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. However, you know you’re ready to begin using multi-touch attribution if:

  • You use multiple digital ads and ad networks.

  • You need to show how your marketing is producing results.

  • You use or are considering using offline channels, such as print media, trade shows, etc.

  • You’re considering or implementing SEO best practices.

  • You’re frustrated with your current methods of tracking your marketing.

  • You need a new way of marketing that reaches your consumers in the competitive marketplace of today.

How to Determine Which Multi-Touch Attribution Model is Right for You

Picking the right multi-touch attribution model for your business can feel complicated, especially since there’s no one-size-fits-all model. The best one for your business is the one that provides the correct insights for your particular situation. That said, it shouldn’t feel like throwing darts at a board and hoping for the best.

To determine the best multi-touch attribution path, consider your customers’ journey. If it’s short and direct, a simpler model like last touch or first touch might suffice. If you include multiple touchpoints over time, a more complex model might make more sense.

Your business goals also have input. Let’s say you want to understand the overall effectiveness of your marketing efforts. In this situation, the linear model—which assigns equal value to all marketing touchpoints—might make sense. But if you want to identify which channel drives initial awareness or final conversions, a U-shaped model might be better.

Because multi-touch attribution models can require significant resources, make sure you have the necessary data tracking and analytical capabilities in place before you begin. Also, don’t feel bad if you need to pivot after a few months of monitoring. Data-driven attribution only works if the information makes sense for your goals. If you’re not getting valuable insights, adjust or switch models until you find one that works.

And if you’re still stuck or feeling overwhelmed, partnering with a marketing analytics expert or agency — especially one with a powerful cross-channel attribution tool — can help you with the decision.

6 Common Multi-Touch Attribution Models

The first step is to determine which attribution model is right for your business. Let’s dive into six common attribution models and evaluate their pros and cons

1. Full path model

The full path model is the most extensive and technical multi-touch attribution model. In its purest form, the full path model tracks every marketing effort that a person experiences, including the customer close touchpoint. This lets marketers see precisely what works and what doesn’t for any particular consumer.

Pro: It’s effective.

Con: It’s costly in terms of resources and time. 

2. Linear attribution

Linear attribution methods assign equal value to all marketing touchpoints. For instance, a customer finds you on Facebook, signs up for your email list, and then clicks an email link. The next week, they go to your site to make a purchase. There are three touch points in total, and the credit is split evenly (33%).

Pro: It demonstrates how each point has value.

Con: It doesn’t offer the amount of insight that other approaches do.   

3. Time decay based

The time decay model is similar to the linear attribution model—credit is spread among all of the touchpoints, but time is also a factor. Less credit is given to the first interaction, while the last interaction receives more credit. For example, the first touchpoint in the form of a flyer may not get much credit, but the click on the call to action button on the website gets much more. 

Pro: It’s good for relationship-building.

Con: It’s less suitable for shorter sales cycles, which isn’t helpful for most D2C brands.

4. W-shaped model

The W-shaped model follows a very set pattern: 90% of the credit is evenly split between the first, third, and last marketing touchpoints. The last 10% is divided between the second and fourth touchpoints, hence the “W” shape. This model attributes the most value to the three main customer journey stages: Visit, lead, and sale. 

Pro: This model gives credit to all touchpoints, but specific key interactions are more weighted.

Con: It doesn’t touch on points outside of the first, middle, and last touchpoints. 

5. U-shaped model

The U-shaped model is similar to the W-shaped insofar as it distributes credit unevenly across the sum of the marketing efforts. In this model, the most credit (80%) goes to the first, and the last touchpoints and everything else (20%) is doled out to the middle.

Pro: Similar to the W-shaped model, it highlights the major touchpoints.

Con: It doesn’t consider marketing efforts beyond lead conversion.

6. Custom models

Finally, custom multi-touch attribution models are highly specialized for the individual company’s needs. Generally, they combine features from the more standard models instead of creating something else entirely. You can get started with creating your own custom attribution model by using Google Analytics

Pro: Custom models give you precise control over how you distribute credit for conversions.

Con: Developing custom models is resource-intensive. For most, it’s easier to use the readily available pre-built attribution models.

Measuring Data and Results of Multi-Touch Attribution

How do companies measure data and track results? The short answer is, it’s very tricky. The slightly longer answer is by using algorithms, software trends, and intuition. These standard tools in marketing also apply here. Some ways of measuring the data can include:

  • Customer reward programs

  • Website analytics 

  • Tracking software

  • Central dashboards, such as Google’s AdWords

These tools collect data from different marketing efforts into a central place. However, there’s a lot to take into account, including consumers’ varying experiences that lead to conversion. The downside to multi-touch attribution is the fact that people are unpredictable. It’s best to factor this in before relying heavily on data, patterns, and trends. 

The Benefits and Challenges of Multi-Touch Attribution

While the advancement of attribution is an exciting development, there are still many limitations to consider. So, what are the benefits and challenges of multi-touch attribution?

The benefits of multi-touch attribution

  • Offers much better insights into your marketing efforts and campaigns

  • Enables a higher return on marketing investment 

  • Much better than previous or typical single-touch attribution methods

  • Provides better insights into your customers’ journey to buying your products

The challenges of multi-touch attribution

  • Can be very costly

  • Does not take into account offline marketing touchpoints that consumers are experiencing

  • Cannot exist in a vacuum or void—many factors must be taken into account

  • Doesn’t take into account external factors, such as pricing, season, etc.

How to Implement Multi-Touch Attribution

Implementing multi-touch attribution involves several steps that can feel complex, but the insights you gain greatly enhance marketing efforts. If you have an interest in multi-touch attribution, consider the following steps:

  1. Define your goals. Be clear about what you want to achieve. Are you trying to understand which channels are most effective for driving conversion? Do you want to optimize your marketing budget or improve customer engagement?

  2. Track all touchpoints. If you’re not already, you should be tracking all customer interactions across your whole marketing mix. This includes social media ads, email marketing, content marketing, paid search, SEO channels, and more. To do this well, you’ll need a robust tracking system that can handle multiple channels and touchpoints.

  3. Choose your attribution model. Select the model that best aligns with your business goals and the nature of your customer journey. There’s no one-size-fits-all model, so pick the one that best represents how your customers interact with you.

  4. Implement the model. Using your attribution tool, set up the multi-touch model. You’ll usually need to configure the tool to assign credit to each touchpoint according to the chosen method.

  5. Analyze the data. As the data rolls in, you can start to analyze it. See which channels drive the most conversions and which ones underperform. Seek out opportunities for conversion rate optimization.

  6. Refine and optimize. You can’t leave multi-touch attribution alone. You should regularly review and adjust the model as you gain more data and insights. Your business goals might evolve, too, which requires adjusting the model or process.

The Importance of Starting Small With Multi-Touch Attribution

Keep in mind that while multi-touch attribution can be overwhelming at first, you can focus on smaller customer journeys and work your way up.

For example, if you’re consistently seeing a trend where people first like your Facebook Page, then click on an ad, followed by a visit to your website, that’s a great place to start. It’s a simple multi-touch strategy that you can study to discover where you should attribute appropriate credit. The most important part is what you do with the resulting data that your customers are providing you. 


What is an example of multi-touch attribution?

A digital marketer builds a multi-channel campaign to sell a new lip gloss. They launch an organic Instagram post, paid Facebook ads, and an email blast to go out to customers. One of those customers clicks the Instagram post, the paid Facebook ad, and a link in the email before they buy. With multi-touch attribution, each one of those channels gets some degree of credit. How much credit depends on the type of multi-channel attribution.

What are the benefits of using a multi-touch attribution model?

The benefits of multi-touch attribution are plentiful. For one, it’s an accurate, comprehensive view of the customer journey. For another, it lets you understand how those multiple channels interact with one another. When you use it to optimize your marketing strategy, you can focus on the most impactful channels and tactics. That’ll not only lead to better ROI, but more accurate information about how all channels perform—not just the last click in the chain.

How does multi-touch attribution work?

Unlike Last Click or First Click attribution models, which reward either the last or first action a customer takes before making a conversion, multi-touch attribution models assign value to each step a customer takes on their journey toward a conversion.

How do I implement multi-touch attribution?

Clearly define your marketing goals and make sure you’re tracking all customer interactions across all channels. Without that information, you’ll likely be misinformed at the start. Once you know these details, pick the attribution model that aligns with your customers’ journey. Attribution tools will assign credit to each touchpoint in your model. With that data in hand, you can analyze it and use it to optimize each channel as necessary.

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