Attributing success: Understanding the channels that matter

attributing success SEO

Whether your business is B2C, B2B or even both, the most important figure to you is probably revenue. Metrics like conversions and average order value are undoubtedly prioritised and we can understand why. The problem with this mindset is that it doesn’t align with the way most people shop and the journey that usually occurs in order to achieve that revenue. When the focus is entirely on the conversion itself, it is usually only focused on the first or last conversion touchpoint. In reality, customers usually interact with your brand on multiple channels and touchpoints before that final conversion and each of them had something to contribute to pulling in that final revenue figure.

While how a customer found your business, the first touchpoint, and the final touchpoint that pushes them to convert are both important, it is important to understand how each of the digital channels and touchpoints played a part in every conversion. Understanding this full customer journey and accurately attributing credit at each stage has many benefits.

organic is an important channel to track

The benefits of marketing attribution include:

  • More accurate allocation of budget to the channels that matter most.
  • Spend time improving and optimising all the channels that contributed to a conversion, not just the first or last ones.
  • No more underestimating and ignoring channels that could be vital to the customer journey and overall revenue.
  • Track and understand the full customer journey to help create content, encourage specific actions and improve engagement. Deliver the right message, at the right time to improve conversion rates and boost revenue.

Understanding the digital marketing mix

Good attribution starts with a good understanding of all the channels in the digital marketing mix. Each of them has its own key benefits and uses but the ones that bring in the most enquiries or revenue for you may depend on your industry and business. The digital marketing channel mix is usually comprised of:

  • Direct
  • Organic
  • Email
  • Paid Search
  • Social
  • Content Marketing
  • Affiliates
  • Referrals

Here is a brief overview of each of the channels and when they are usually utilised.

there are many digital channels that customers interact with before purchasing


Traffic coming from direct is any visitor or customer that has come to your website by visiting the web address directly rather than clicking through from a search results page, an ad or any other means. This is often considered a ‘dark traffic’ channel as on its own it doesn’t tell you much about the customer and how they found you.

Direct traffic is best understood and utilised when viewed as a part of the customer journey; for example identifying when someone has interacted with a paid ad and then come to your website again directly at a later stage to make a purchase. It is also typical of an offline to online customer journey where someone may have seen a TV ad or leaflet and gone to your website directly afterwards. More on this later.


Organic traffic comes from search engines like Google and happens when someone is searching for a product or topic and has found your site in the search results page. Organic traffic is usually used when understanding your SEO initiatives; an increase in organic traffic over time, for example, will usually be an indicator that your site is ranking for more keywords or improving in the rankings.


Any traffic or conversions from email have simply come from your email campaigns. The type of email campaign you send will depend on its place within the customer journey. For example, promotional campaigns with a discount are more likely to push for direct conversions whereas emails with information on your brand and products can be utilised to nurture leads and conversions further up the funnel.

Paid search

Paid search or PPC activities are your paid ads on search engines and associated websites. This is usually always from Google Ad and Bing Ads. As with email, the campaigns that you utilise will likely have a different impact at various points in the customer journey.


Social media traffic is any traffic including organic and paid ads from the social networking channels. This includes, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and other social channels you may be utilising.

content marketing may be one channel that contributes to a conversion

Content marketing

You won’t find content marketing as a separate channel in Google Analytics, but it’s common today for businesses to separate out this increasingly important area of digital marketing. Content marketing includes your blogs, videos and digital downloads such as white papers and buying guides. This content can be vital for many conversions in both B2B and B2C but it is most successful when crafted to encourage a specific action at a certain point in the customer journey. This means you need to have an understanding of the buyer journey and also be able to track this content individually to understand content marketing as a channel. More on tacking later.


Affiliate channels are any websites or companies that refer traffic to your business in exchange for a commission or fee. You can nurture these affiliate relationships with relevant businesses and services yourself as well as utilise a range of affiliate networks as well as coupon and cashback sites.


This is traffic from almost anywhere else on the web such as guest blogging you take part in, websites linking to yours as part of your ongoing backlink strategy and more.

conversions attribution is important in ecommerce

Digital marketing attribution

The interplay of all the digital channels and how they contribute to the conversion will vary depending on your industry and your business. For most, organic, paid and direct is usually considered the most valuable for both bringing in traffic and contributing to overall revenue.

A recent 2019 study by Wolfgang, however, shows how this can change across business and industry types. It also shows that while some channels may clearly bring in the majority of new visitors, they may not contribute the same amount in overall revenue. This is just one example of why it’s important to understand the value of each digital channel to your business; a channel that may not seem to be bringing a lot of traffic may be one of your top contributors in terms of revenue or vice versa.

organic, paid search and direct are the most common channels but all contribute to revenue

There are three main areas or models for marketing attribution that you can look at.

First click attribution

This is when all of the value or weight of a conversion is given to the first interaction. The first touchpoint may be considered the most important because it is how the customer found the business. If it is through a paid ad, for example, we could say that without that first ad the conversion would never have happened and was ultimately what encouraged the customer to consider and buy with the business.

The problem with first click is that a later touchpoint, such as a whitepaper or product buying guide, may have been an equally or even a more important factor in the decision making process. First click ignores all these later interactions.

Last click attribution

Similar to first click, this attribution model gives all the value of a conversion to the last interaction. Again, it can be considered the most important as it can be implied that this touchpoint ultimately made the decision for a customer to purchase. This model has a similar problem to first click in that it ignores how the customer found the business and any interactions they had between then that made the difference between them staying with their journey with the business and going elsewhere to purchase.

the most common attribution models

Multi-channel attribution

This type of attribution looks at assigning value across all the potential touchpoints in a conversion journey. Multi-channel attribution can be further broken down into a few common models that are often used including:

  • Linear attribution – this assigns equal value to every stage in a conversion journey. For example, if a customer took 4 steps to make a purchase, then each touchpoint would be assigned 25% of the total conversion value.
  • Time decay attribution – this assigns more conversion value to the most recent touchpoints. It is typically used in longer sales cycles and for businesses where customers typically take longer to make a decision before making a purchase.
  • U-shaped or position-based attribution – this gives the most value to the first and last touchpoints and splits the remaining value between each of the touchpoints in between. Typically each of the first and last will get 40% each while the last 20% is split between the others.

There is a wide range of attribution models used today including custom models which demand a deep understanding of your buyer personas, customer journey and channel mix to assign your own values to each touchpoint. The reality is that the value of each touchpoint will likely change based on the lifetime value of the customer, the type of buyer persona they fall into, how long their journey was, the product or service they ended up purchasing and much more. The value of each touchpoint may, therefore, change on a purchase-by-purchase basis.

Measuring and tracking the customer journey

Attribution can understandably get very complex and assigning different values for every individual purchase made isn’t usually possible. The most important thing is understanding that every channel has its part to play and knowing how to track these multi-path purchases to make decision making and budget planning as accurate as possible.

Tracking conversion paths

The easiest way to do this is in Google Analytics, where much of the legwork is done for you already. Under the Conversions section, you can find a range of handy tools such as reverse goal path, funnel visualisation, assisted conversions and top conversion paths. This can give you a breakdown of the percentage of overall conversions that were assisted by another channel, which channels contribute the most as assisted channels and what the most common paths to purchase are.

Top conversion paths in particular is a great way to see just how complex the customer journey can be with many touch points cropping up not just once but often several times within a single journey.

You can track conversion paths in google analytics

The assisted conversions section can then highlight which channels overall may have a high percentage of assisted conversions compared to their relatively last click conversion contribution. This can help you make sure that you are considering the true potential value of every channel before making decisions about which to prioritise.

Setting conversion goals

Identifying which actions you want to track and should consider an important conversion goal for your business is also important for tracking. As well as a purchase, you may want to make email sign-ups, contact forms and other actions across your website a conversion goal that you want to track. You can set this up easily in Analytics.

It’s then possible to track which channels are contributing the most for each type of conversion so can you further optimise your activities on each channel. For example, you may find organic contributes to the most email sign-ups and will, therefore, optimise your SEO activities with this goal in mind.

Set goals in google analytics to track custom actions across your website
Create goals in Anlytics to track actions that matter to your across your website

Tracking conversion actions

Setting specific conversion goals is also the first step in being able to create content to drive certain actions. We discussed earlier that content marketing is an increasingly important area and is often considered a separate channel yet is not already set up as such in Analytics. If you are creating content such as blog posts, downloadable pdfs, videos and more with specific goals in mind, then you need to be able to track this individual content and the actions they are driving.

Fortunately, there is a way you can track this and get the data in Analytics. Google’s campaign URL builder allows you to add custom parameters to each piece of content you create and promote for tracking within Analytics. You can give each URL a campaign name if it is part of a specific campaign, a channel source, medium and more.

URL build lets you set customer parameters when sharing or posting links
URL build lets you set customer parameters when sharing or posting links
With Google’s URL builder you can create your own custom parameters to track

You can then track this content under source/medium sections in Analytics or by filtering traffic that has come from a certain source or part of a specific campaign.

You can track your customer parameters set with URL builder in analytics
You can track your customer parameters created with URL builder in analytics

Do you know the true value of your digital marketing efforts?

Understanding the true ROI of your digital marketing activities and attributing value to the right channels is vital for making decisions that drive the most return and value for your business. While Google Analytics provides the tools to be able to track this, attribution can get incredibly complex and time-consuming.

As experts in all things digital, we have the experience and know-how to help make sense of your marketing mix and identify the real value of each of your marketing channels. This means being able to make the right decisions for your bottom line and delivering the right message at the right time to improve conversion rates. To find out more about how we can help you make the most out of your entire marketing mix, contact us today or find out more about our digital services.