What is Multi-Touch Attribution, Why’s It Important & How To Get Started

Katie Holmes
20th May 2021
Click Attribution

Multi-touch attribution is crucial for modern marketing teams. There are multiple types of attribution models you can use, and the best one will depend on your unique situation and use case. In this guide, we discuss what multi-touch attribution is, the key benefits, and how you can overcome the challenges associated with it.

Marketers in startups to enterprise companies alike struggle to make decisions due to a lack of clear and actionable data. Are you one of them? If you’re nodding your head (or even thought about it), don’t worry, the vast majority of marketers are in the same position.

According to a survey by Kanter Millward Brown, 78% of marketers admitted that they struggle to connect the dots of their performance across various marketing channels.

Luckily, it’s getting easier to track and measure marketing performance.

Multi-touch attribution allows marketers to see how well individual campaigns are performing, how they relate to overall marketing ROI, and, most importantly, lets them make decisions based on actionable data.

So, whether you’re new to multi-touch attribution or would like a refresher on how to use it, this guide can offer a one-stop-shop for information and top tips on how to get started.

For this article, we’ll discuss:

Editor’s Note: Budgets are getting scrutinised, and marketers are under more pressure than ever to justify their investments. With the closed-loop framework, you can easily connect revenue with marketing source data to measure your ROI and demonstrate the effectiveness of your campaigns. Download the handbook to close the loop between your leads and revenue.

closed loop marketing attribution - banner - www.ruleranlytics.com


First, what is multi-touch attribution?

Multi-touch attribution (also referred to as multi-channel attribution) is a method of judging marketing channel success by analysing each touchpoint that leads to a conversion.

The ultimate goal of using multi-touch attribution is to optimise the allocation of your marketing spend to focus on the channels that have the most influence on conversions.

Traditionally, marketers had to rely on single-touch attribution, which typically only gives credit to one marketing channel for conversions.

For example, if someone reads a blog post and then converts, you’ll credit that piece of content for the conversion, but ignore other channels they may have been influenced by.

Multi-touch attribution, however, allows you to see the conversion paths that your customers took with more clarity.

For example, that person who converted on a blog post may have previously seen your ad campaign on Facebook or engaged with your email nurturing campaigns. Both of those channels deserve a portion of the credit for the conversion.

With multi-touch attribution, you can figure out which marketing channels or campaigns should be credited with the conversion and then optimise your budget allocation to focus on the channels and campaigns you know are influencing conversions.

It’s for that reason why more and more marketers are adopting multi-touch marketing attribution models into their workflow. In fact, according to e-marketer, over 45% of marketers in the UK and US use multi-touch attribution in their reporting.


Why is multi-touch attribution important?

Multi-touch attribution is key when reporting on digital marketing success. Having visibility of buyer journeys provides insight into the success of your marketing and can help you:


Determine your true marketing ROI

Digital marketing needs a lot of investment whether that’s resource, budget, or both. With that investment comes a need to understand what return you’re getting.
Multi-touch attribution is the ideal way to help you harness data, interpret it and use it to tell a story of what’s actually happening in your marketing funnel. And you know what that means… ROI!

Once you have a true understanding of which channels, campaigns, and keywords are working, you can allocate more budget to them and watch the conversions roll in.

And, you’ll be able to stop wasting time, and money, on marketing campaigns that just aren’t impacting your bottom line. With this, you can even shorten your sales cycles as you truly understand which touchpoints need to occur to convert that lead into a sale.


Identify important micro-conversions

Wouldn’t it be great if a user landed on your website and hit the “purchase” button, or signed up straight away?

We can all dream. While we should definitely be tracking the number of conversions happening on our website, we also need to understand the actions happening before that conversion.

With multi-touch attribution models, you’ll discover which touchpoints in your funnel lead to significant changes in conversion rates.

Editor’s note: While we’re on the topic, don’t forget to check out our conversion benchmark report. Compare lead conversion rates against 14 industries and receive data-driven insights to boost your lead quality.

For example, you might discover that if a lead reads a particular blog post, they have a 30% higher chance of converting.

Or, leads who engage with a specific retargeting ad convert in a shorter time frame than those who didn’t. Once you start applying multi-touch attribution models to your marketing activities, you’ll uncover hidden information data that will help you make better decisions in the future and discover how well all of your channels deliver value to your audience.


Multi-touch attribution vs. single-touch attribution models

If you’re using single-touch attribution, you might be wondering if it’s worth switching how you track your conversions and marketing efforts. Most marketers use last-click attribution to monitor the success of their marketing campaigns and let us just say, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Last-click attribution credits your conversion to the last touchpoint users had with your website. Many marketers prefer this model, as it’s a great way to understand which channels and campaigns your customer engaged with in the final stage of their decision process.

But, if you start to dig a little deeper, you could potentially see some problems with using last-click attribution in isolation.

Let’s say a user finds you thanks to a well-written blog. They leave your website but receive remarketing messages on Facebook a couple of days later. They click on your ad and then convert into a lead.

In this case, last-click attribution will allocate 100% credit to Facebook for the conversion. As a result, you could deem your content marketing as unsuccessful, when actually it contributed to a new lead.


What types of multi-touch attribution models can you use?

There’s been an explosion of attribution models designed to help marketers track and analyse customers along the path-to-purchase. The more common types of multi-touch attribution models include linear, time decay, U-shaped, W-shaped, full path, and custom.


Linear Attribution Model

The linear multi-touch attribution model assigns the same credit to every channel that a lead viewed or engaged within their conversion journey.

If they clicked a Google ad, used a brand search 3-days later, signed up to your newsletter and then converted using direct search, all of those assets will be given the same amount of credit.

Linear attribution shows you what touchpoints were interacted with but won’t show you how important they were in the overall buyer journey.


Time decay model

Time-based attribution assigns more weight to interactions that happen near the conversion event.

If a user clicked on your Google ad, did nothing for a month, performed a brand search, signed up to your newsletter and converted using direct search, then the last click (direct) would receive more credit than your other touchpoints.

Time decay attribution can work, but if you have a long sales cycle then it will discount touchpoints that may have been crucial to getting a buyer to put your solution into their consideration set.


U-Shaped Attribution Model

The U-shaped attribution model (also known as the Position-Based Attribution) gives credit to two main touchpoints.

The two key touchpoints are the first touchpoint that a prospect interacted with, and the second is the lead conversion touchpoint (where they became a qualified lead). Those two touchpoints receive 40% of the credit each, and the remaining 20% is divided between other touchpoints that someone interacted with.

The rest of the credit is then evenly distributed through any touchpoints in between.


W-Shaped attribution model

The W-shaped attribution model gives the majority of credit to three main touchpoints.

30% goes to the first touchpoint. Another 30% is assigned to the touchpoint where a prospect becomes a qualified lead. A further 30% is assigned to the final touchpoint a lead interacted with before becoming a customer.

Then, the remaining 10% is assigned evenly to all other touchpoints that the customer interacted with.


Full path attribution model

The Full Path attribution model (sometimes referred to as Z-Shaped) assigns credit to even more of the touchpoints in the buyer journey.

Multi-Touch Attribution - full path attribution 0 www.ruleranalytics.com (1)In this case, 22.5% of the credit is given to four points:


Custom attribution

A custom multi-touch attribution model is what you’d expect.

You assign the weighting to each touchpoint yourself depending on how important it is to your business. If you have the resources, this is arguably the most effective way to attribute conversions to your entire marketing funnel, as you can tailor it to your exact needs.

Multi-Touch Attribution - Custom attribution - www.ruleranalytics.com

In this case, 22.5% of the credit is given to four points:


Common challenges of multi-touch attribution

Everyone wants more (and better) data to judge their marketing efforts, so it’s easy to want to jump straight into using multi-touch marketing attribution models in your company. However, there are some challenges that you need to be aware of.


Lack of visibility into external factors

Firstly, if you haven’t included or aren’t tracking a touchpoint, it won’t be given any credit in your attribution model.

Editor’s Note: Would you like full visibility of the customer journey from brand awareness to conversion? In this guide on tracking customer touchpoints, you’ll learn how to unlock valuable data across the entire buying cycle and identify your most profitable campaigns.

For example, let’s say you have your product listed on a third party directory site like Capterra or G2. Your prospects may visit your listing to see reviews and evaluate your product before making a final decision. However, because you don’t have tracking installed on there because it’s not your own website, it won’t show up in your attribution models.

Depending on the external, untrackable factors, you could use marketing mix modeling to assess the impact of these factors.

It’s important to remember that no matter what attribution model you use, you may never truly see the full picture. Use your data to guide decisions, and look at the data with a critical eye if it doesn’t look right.


Lack of offline metrics for calls or meetings

Most multi-touch attribution models don’t easily allow for offline tracking.

This means any incoming calls or in-person customer visits won’t be automatically logged. And if you’re manually logging them, you won’t be able to connect them to your marketing leads leading to confusion and holes in your tracking.

To get around this, we’d recommend using a purpose built offline conversion attribution tracking tool like Ruler Analytics. This will enable you to accurately track and attribute how influential phone calls (and other difficult to track conversions) are and see how they contribute to ROI.

Or, you can also get our guide on offline conversion tracking and learn how to connect the leads you generate online with the sales you convert offline.


How to get started with multi-touch attribution?

If you want to use multi-touch attribution, you’ll need to ensure your tools and processes are set up to capture the right data, and display it in a way that you can make sense of. Here are the three ways you can get started with multi-touch marketing attribution.


Self-hosted JavaScript and cookie-based tracking

Javascript tracking code is the baseline tracking method for multi-touch attribution. It’s a snippet of code added to an organisation’s website. When users land on the website, that code is triggered and tracks their movement and actions from page to page.

This is a critical element of proper tracking given your website is a hub for other marketing activities. Your paid media, organic traffic, social and email campaigns will likely all direct to your website in some way, so integrated tracking is the cornerstone of multi-attribution tracking.

Side Note: Google announced plans to phase out third-party cookies by 2022. And in March 2021, Google made clear that once third-party cookies have been phased out, they won’t introduce any alternative trackers. We recently put together a blog on first-party and third-party cookies and how these recent changes will affect advertisers.


Multi-touch attribution tracking through your martech stack

The average company uses 91 different martech tools.

Even if you’re using less than that, you’ll need to ensure you’re tracking how each tool influences conversions. For example, most software companies use Intercom or Drift for live chat and customer support.

Live chat can be a very effective way to communicate with and nurture leads, so you should be tracking how it affects the buyer journey. Most live chat tools integrate with Google Analytics, so you can track how these touchpoints affect conversions directly within your analytics tools.

We’d recommend going through all of your tools, audit how your customers interact with them, and integrate them with a central analytics tool like Google Analytics (or use Zapier to compile data in a spreadsheet) so you can see how they contribute in your multi-touch attribution models.


Advanced tracking with multi-touch attribution tools

There are many options to choose from, in fact, we put together a list of the best marketing attribution tools and software for 2021. However, for us, we opt for our own tracking solution.

Ruler’s marketing attribution platform enables you to directly attribute sales amount to specific marketing activities and determine ROI across all channels, both online and offline. Ruler Analytics integrates with industry-leading tools like Google Analytics, Google Ads, Salesforce, Pipedrive, Zapier, and 1000+ other martech products.

It’s the ideal way to gain instant insight into your marketing activities. Once you can measure the effectiveness of your channels, you can judge each channel’s ROI and justify your marketing budget with confidence.

Editor’s note: Want to learn more about Ruler Analytics but not ready to book a demo? This guide on why you need Ruler and see how it can help boost the quality of your marketing reports.


Gain full visibility of your marketing with multi-touch attribution

Multi-touch attribution is vital to a successful marketing function.

If you stick to single-touch attribution, you could be missing critical insight on how each marketing touchpoint contributes to the bigger picture, and you’ll never gain the clarity you need to accurately assess ROI.

Multi-touch attribution is crucial for modern marketing teams.

There are multiple types of attribution models you can use, and the best one will depend on your use case. There will be some initial effort required to understand multi-touch attribution, and to implement the correct model for your company.

Once you have true multi-touch attribution capabilities, you’ll wonder how you went without it.

Book a demo Ruler Analytics