How Often Should We Change Attribution Models?

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How Often Should We Change Attribution Models?

Andrea asks, “How often are you changing your attribution modeling vs the change in organizational strategy?

An attribution model is something that’s mapped fundamentally to your sales and marketing strategy. It should change as you change strategy, or as your audience changes.

First, let’s establish a baseline. Why do we need attribution models? Fundamentally, attribution (from Latin, ad tribuere, to give to) is about understanding and giving credit to different marketing channels and tactics based on their contributions to achieving your goals.

We need attribution models to understand how different channels generate results. The more touchpoints involved, the more we need a more complex attribution model. Here’s an example from my Google Analytics that tells me the average number of touchpoints before conversion:

Google Analytics Path Length

We see above that the majority of my conversions occur within one touchpoint, 83%.

A last-touch attribution model is appropriate for companies that are almost purely transactional in nature, with very fast sales cycles and few touchpoints. An ecommerce company selling a SaaS subscription where the visitor comes to the site and buys something, then leaves would be an example. There’s no interaction, no content to read, no relationship with the customer. They come in, do the thing, and get out. That’s a great candidate for a last-touch model.

Generally speaking, if a site accomplishes its conversions in one touch 95% of the time or more, a last-touch model is fine.

Suppose you changed marketing strategies and started to pursue more of a content marketing strategy. You want to attract visitors through organic search, through social media, and you want to build an actual relationship with them. At that point, you’d probably want to change models to something like time decay or a true multi-touch attribution model, because you’d start to have more complex interactions with your audience.

For example, my site went from ~90% of conversions being one touch to 83% over the last couple of years. Once I dropped below 90%, I had to change attribution models to deal with the increasingly complex ways audiences were finding me.

The other rule of thumb I go by is how many marketing channels are involved. If you’ve got a company where you run only Google Ads and that’s literally how you make all your money and nothing else, then you can use a first or last touch model with no reservations. Arguably, you don’t need an attribution model at all, because you’re only doing one thing and it’s working. Once you get above three channels and you need to understand the interactions of those channels with each other, then you should be looking at changing attribution models to accommodate the greater complexity.

Why do we care? We care because we want to know what’s working, and in proportion to the resources we allocate to our efforts. It’s good to know, for example, that Google Ads drove 25% of your conversions, but it’d be more important to ascertain what percentage of your hard and soft dollar budget you expended. If you spent 10% of your budget and got 25% of your conversions, then there’s a clear sign to spend some more. On the other hand, if you spent 50% of your budget to get 25% of your conversions, that channel might not be pulling its weight.

The reason we use more complicated attribution models is to take into account things like brand awareness, etc. that individual tactics may boost, but aren’t the last thing a prospective customer did prior to converting. Some channels simply work better at the beginning of a customer journey than at the end; with the correct attribution model, we’ll ascertain what those are and make sure we’re using each channel to its maximum effect.

To wrap up, change models when your strategy or your audience behaviors change, and match the model you choose to the complexity of your channel mix.

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