What is Multi-Touch Attribution and How Does it Work?

Katie Holmes
10th February 2023

Multi-touch attribution is crucial for modern marketing teams. We discuss what multi-touch attribution is, the key benefits, and how you can overcome the challenges associated with it.

Marketers everywhere are struggling to make decisions and track marketing effectiveness due to a lack of clear and actionable data.

Our data backs it up. 39% of marketers agree that more accurate data would improve marketing outputs.

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:

Pro Tip

The launch of Apple’s iOS 14.5 update and Google’s third-party cookie phaseout has made traditional multi-touch attribution less effective. Here at Ruler, we’re on a journey to combine multi-touch attribution and marketing mix modeling (MMM) to create a more effective approach to marketing measurement.

Book a demo and find out more

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 marketing touchpoint that leads to a conversion or sale.

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 influential impact on your business outcomes. 

Traditionally, marketers had to rely on single-touch attribution (e,g, last click), 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. 

Referring back to our 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 optimise your budget allocation to focus on the tactics you know are contributing value.

It’s for that reason that more and more marketers are adopting multi-touch marketing attribution models into their workflow. Don’t take our word for it. 75% of companies are using a multi-touch attribution model to measure marketing performance. 

What is single-touch vs multi-touch attribution models

If you’re using single-touch attribution, you might be wondering if it’s worth switching to multi-touch attribution. 

Single-touch attribution and multi-touch attribution are two different methods used to attribute credit for conversions or sales to various touchpoints in a customer’s journey.

Let’s look at single-touch first.

Single-touch attribution gives credit for a conversion to a single touchpoint, typically the last interaction an individual had before converting into a lead or sale. 

Related: What is last click attribution and how to use it

For example, if an individual clicks on a Google ad and then later makes a purchase, the Google ad would receive 100% of the attribution credit.

In theory, single-touch attribution makes sense.

The most important touchpoint is the one that happens before the conversion, right? Maybe back in the early 2000s when the average consumer used two touchpoints. 

But in this omnichannel world, single-touch attribution is too narrow.

Due to the large variety of digital channels, the average online journey ranges from 20 to 500 touchpoints. It’s somewhat unfair to attribute your conversions and revenue to a single touchpoint. 

Multi-touch attribution, however, spreads attribution credit across multiple touchpoints in a customer’s journey. 

The exact methodology for how the credit is distributed can vary, but common methods include linear attribution. This is where credit is evenly distributed across touchpoints.

Overall, multi-touch attribution is more beneficial because

However, the choice between the single-touch and multi-touch attribution depends on the specific goals of a business and the data available for analysis.

What are the multi-touch attribution models?

Multi-touch attribution models are methods used to distribute credit for a conversion or sale across multiple touchpoints in a customer’s journey. 

Related: What is attribution modeling and how to get started

Most marketers consider the following multi-touch attribution models the most reliable for tracking marketing effectiveness across multiple marketing touchpoints:

Linear multi-touch 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.

In the example above, all of the touchpoints have been 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 multi-touch attribution model

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

In the example above, we can see Facebook has received 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 multi-touch 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 multi-touch attribution model

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

25% goes to the first touchpoint. Another 25% is assigned to the interaction with Google search. And a further 25% is assigned to the final touchpoint a lead interacted with before converting.

Then, the remaining 25% 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.

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

Custom multi-touch 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.

In this case:

Fractional attribution 

Fractional attribution is a multi-touch attribution model that assigns a fractional value, or weight, to each touchpoint in the customer journey. 

The sum of all weights assigned to each touchpoint adds up to 1, representing 100% of the credit for the conversion.

In fractional attribution, the weight assigned to each touchpoint can vary based on the relative importance of that touchpoint in the customer journey. F

or example, touchpoints that are deemed to be more influential in driving the conversion may be assigned a higher weight than touchpoints that are less influential.

It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to multi-touch attribution, and the best model for a given business will depend on the specific goals, data, and customer journey of that business. 

Marketers often experiment with different models and compare their results to determine which model works best for their particular needs.

What is multi-touch attribution vs marketing mix modeling (MMM)

Multi-touch attribution is often compared with marketing mix modeling (MMM), but they’re very different. They’re both methods used to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, but they’re each based on different analytical approaches.

Multi-touch attribution

We already know what multi-touch attribution is and how it works. To recap, multi-touch attribution is a method used to understand the contribution of each touchpoint in a customer’s journey to a conversion. 

It provides a more comprehensive view of the customer journey and helps marketers understand which touchpoints are most effective in driving conversions.

Pros of multi-touch attribution

Cons of multi-touch attribution

Marketing mix modeling

Like multi-touch attribution, MMM is used to measure marketing effectiveness by analysing the relationship between marketing and revenue.

Marketing mix modeling (MMM) uses historical data and statistical models to evaluate the impact of different marketing variables on business results, such as sales and ROI. 

Related: What is marketing mix modeling and how does it work?

Several variables can be used in a marketing mix model, but some of the most common are advertising spend, price, promotion and distribution. Using these variables and the data from MMM, marketers can make more informed decisions about their marketing mix and budget allocation. 

Pros of marketing mix modeling

Cons of marketing mix modeling

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 understand. 

Here are the three steps you can use to get started with multi-touch marketing attribution.

Capture your marketing data

To truly harness the power of multi-touch attribution, you need to focus on collecting and collating individual data. 

Tracking visitors individually allows you to monitor and measure interactions across the customer journey and better attribute credit to specific touchpoints. 

There are three ways you can collect individual data, which are often used in tandem. 

1. Implement javascript tracking. This is the baseline tracking method for multi-touch attribution. When users land on the website, that code is triggered and tracks their movement and actions from page to page. 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.

2. Utilise UTM parameters. These snippets can be used at the end of your links to attribute conversions to specific campaigns, sources, and tactics. UTMs can be paired with javascript tracking to help you understand the impact of your marketing efforts and make informed decisions about your marketing mix. 

3. Invest in 3rd party attribution software. You can use attribution tools with various methods and algorithms to assign credit for conversions and other business outcomes to different marketing touchpoints, such as ad campaigns, email marketing, and social media (we’ll get onto this in a bit more detail later.)

Store your data in a single location 

Once you start collecting information on your comversions, you need to ensure the data is stored in one place along with the originating marketing source data (e.g. ad, campaign, landing page). 

This will allow you to effectively manage every interaction along the path to purchase.

Many organisations opt for a customer relationship management system (CRM) as it allows stakeholders instant access to key information about opportunities and revenue.

Also, most CRMs provide the ability to customise fields, which is key when it comes to tracking lead source and marketing variables.

Capturing data from multiple marketing sources in your CRM provides a single source of truth and allows you to understand which channels drive the most qualified leads and sales.

Visualise your data and drive meaningful change.

The final step is to visualise your multi-touch attribution data in a way that is easy to understand and interpret. 

Data visualisation is important as it helps your identify patterns and trends in the data that might not be immediately apparent from looking at raw data. 

Many marketers prefer to share and pass multi-touch attribution data into the tools they’re familar with most.  

For example, we feed multi-touch attribution data into Chartmogul. In ChartMogul, we’ve set up custom fields, and marketing source data is passed from our attribution solution and CRM. This allows us to see how much revenue we’re generating from each marketing channel every month.

There are, however, a variety of data visualisation tools that you can use to turn your multi-touch attribution data into visually-appealing graphs, charts, and/or heat maps.

Multi-touch attribution and MMM with Ruler Analytics 

In recent years, multi-touch attribution has become less effective due to several factors, including the launch of Apple’s iOS 14.5 update and Google’s third-party cookie phaseout.

Related: All you need to know about first-party and third party cookies

Apple’s iOS 14.5 update requires all apps to ask for explicit user permission to track their data and share it with third-party organisations. 

According to data gathered in March 2022, the overall ATT opt-in rate by iOS users worldwide was 46%. 

That means advertisers are missing data on nearly half of Apple users. Being deprived of this data has caused an inability to effectively assess ad performance.

And let’s not forget about third-party cookies. Third-party cookies have been a key tool for companies to track customer behavior across multiple websites and devices, providing valuable data for multi-touch attribution analysis. 

However, with the rise of privacy concerns and increased regulations, many browsers and websites are now blocking third-party cookies by default, limiting the amount of data that companies can collect on their customers.

With the changes Apple and Google are making to protect consumer privacy, companies are finding it extremely difficult to accurately attribute conversions back to specific marketing efforts across multiple touchpoints. 

So, while multi-touch attribution can still provide valuable insights, it is important for companies to be aware of these limitations and consider alternative approaches. 

Here we’re on a journey to supplement multi-touch attribution with marketing mix modeling to create a hybrid approach to marketing measurement. This is so marketers can: 

Here’s a quick run-through of how Ruler works:

Ruler starts by tracking the customer journey at the visitor level using first-party data. 

It captures the marketing source from each session, page views, UTM variables, Click IDs, and Cookie IDs. 

When an anonymous visitor fills out a form, makes a phone call or initiates a live chat query, Ruler will send all of the data it’s captured about this lead to your CRM.

In the CRM, this lead is enriched with Ruler’s attribution data, allowing you to keep track of their movements as they move down the funnel.

Once this lead converts into a deal or sale, the customer’s information, such as the revenue amount and marketing data, is sent back to the Ruler database. 

This information is then attributed across the customer’s touchpoints, allowing you to see which marketing channels are having the greatest impact on your revenue metrics and goals.

But the best is yet to come. 

Ruler uses marketing mix modeling alongside its multi-touch attribution technology to give you a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the impact of your marketing.

Here are the three core features of Ruler’s MMM: 

By combining both methods, businesses can get a more accurate picture of the impact of individual marketing efforts on conversions and ROI.  

Multi-touch attribution provides insights into your clicks and short-term impact. And marketing mix modeling provides insights into your offline marketing and high-level strategic data for budgeting and long-term planning.

It’s a win-win. 

Want to learn more about Ruler’s attribution and MMM? Book a demo here

Need help getting started with multi-touch attribution?

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

But it’s even more powerful when it’s paired with marketing mix modeling. Multi-touch attribution and MMM gives you access to significantly more data to track effectiveness and ROI across all your channels—online and offline.

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