“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” In this digital age, marketers really should have assigned this well-worn John Wannamaker quote to history. And yet, search marketers continue to hemorrhage cash from their paid search budgets because they don’t fully understand where their sales are coming from. 


Attribution models should give you a clear understanding of how well your ads are performing and help you optimize your customers’ buying journey accordingly. However, they can be challenging to understand and sometimes downright contradictory when compared to each other. 


So what’s the best attribution model to judge the success of your campaign strategy? Before we answer this question, we need to compare and contrast the various options available to marketers. 


Search Marketing Attribution Models

Paid search attribution models allow marketers to allocate credit to advertising interactions from the initial click to the final purchase (and beyond). This then enables them to optimize their search campaign strategies to maximize conversions. 


Typical search marketing attribution models include: 

  • Last Click Attribution: The most commonly used attribution model. Last-click attribution grants all the credit for a conversion to the last-clicked ad and corresponding keyword. However, last-click attribution’s most significant challenge to marketers is that it completely ignores every other click on the customer journey that leads to conversion. This can lead to specific search keywords being overvalued while undervaluing the terms that introduce your brand to your customers. 
  • First Click Attribution: Turning last-click attribution on its head and offering all credit for a conversion to the initial click. First-click attribution shares many of the same problems as last-click attribution by failing to highlight the importance of subsequent clicks on the customer’s journey. 
  • Linear Attribution: As the name suggests, linear attribution shares the credit across all ad engagements on the customer journey. Linear attribution suggests that all clicks are equal. This might not be true, particularly when people click on brand terms after an initial search. 
  • Time Decay Attribution: This approach grants more credit to the ad engagements that occur closer in time to the conversion. This system uses a seven-day half-life rule. This means an ad engagement eight days before a sale will get half the credit as a click the day before the conversion. Unfortunately, this attribution model may not give credit where credit is due for considered purchases that may take time to come to fruition. 
  • Position-Based Attribution: Similar to linear attribution but weights the credit in favor of the first and last click. The first and final click each receive 40% credit for the conversion, while the clicks in the middle of the journey take a share of the remaining 20%. 
  • Data-Driven Attribution: OK, we’re getting scientific now. Data-driven attribution assigns credit based on data that determines which keywords, ads, and campaigns have had the greatest impact on your conversions. This data-led approach utilizes Google Analytics and looks at website visits and conversions from Search, Shopping, YouTube, and Display ads. By crunching so much data, this approach might be seen as a more reliable attribution strategy. However, as with all other attribution strategies, it’s far from 100% accurate.   


Compare Search Attribution Models

Because there is no perfect attribution model, and every marketer’s business is different, comparing and contrasting attribution models pays dividends. 


Google’s “Model Comparison” report enables marketers to compare two strategies side-by-side and recommends the following approach: 

  • Last Click vs. First Click: This helps marketers identify undervalued keywords at the start of the customer journey towards conversion. 
  • Last Click vs. Linear:  This helps marketers identify undervalued keywords that assist customers on their journey along the conversion path. 
  • Last Click vs. Data-driven: This will give you an insight into the value of keywords as determined by Google’s machine-learning technology. 


Multi-Channel Attribution: The Elephant in the Room

The real challenge for search marketers is the inconvenient fact that search is only part of the story. Therefore, when analyzing any campaign’s success, it would help if the marketer had a clear overview of everything else that could have influenced a conversion. 


Before search marketers pat themselves on the back for doing a fantastic job, they need to ask the following questions:  

  • Is a search campaign being uplifted by a traditional broadcast or print campaign? 
  • Has a PR campaign resulted in the public’s perception of your brand awareness dramatically improving? 
  • Has a high-profile influencer endorsed your brand, or has a social media campaign gone viral?  


It’s also worth considering: 

You may be paying too much for conversions via paid search when organic search (SEO) could have delivered similar returns. Remember, it’s always easier for the visitor to click on a paid ad than a free result when they appear alongside each other. So, are you paying for clicks that would come anyway from a natural search? 


Email Marketing/Marketing Automation

It would be entirely remiss for a company with its roots firmly planted in the world of email marketing and marketing automation, not to mention that email is often considered the profitable component of any paid search campaign.  


When setting your search marketing objectives, you must consider metrics like Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). Due to the high costs involved with search marketing, those initial clicks might completely destroy any margin you have in a product or service. Remember, if your email strategy isn’t firing on all cylinders, your paid search activities may never deliver a positive return on investment. 


Testing Times

There are no easy answers when it comes to search attribution. There will always potentially be something extra in the mix that influences your campaign’s success.  


As with any other marketing problem, the only solution to find the best possible route to success is to test various strategies against each other. Therefore, in the perfect world, the marketer will either have a clear view of their entire marketing strategy or work with a partner to give them that insight. 


Learn More

To learn more about how the marketing experts at emfluence can help you understand the true value of your marketing spend across all your digital marketing channels, contact us today at expert@emfluence.com. 



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