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How To Use AdWords Attribution Modelling

6 mins read

This blog shows you how to use AdWords attribution modelling that actually helps you improve your insight into what does and does not play a part in your conversions from paid campaigns.

Adwords Attribution Modelling on laptop screen

What Is The Principal Behind AdWords Attribution?

Well, AdWords attribution, Google attribution modelling, or whatever you choose to call it, is all about this; being able to precisely work out which parts of your paid ad campaign play a part in your conversions and how much.

This football analogy made it clear to me when Sam, a member of our PPC team, told me, "Using attribution analysis is like being able to work out that Mesut Ozil's contribution in the build up play of Arsenal's goals is just as vital to them scoring as Theo Walcott's final cross into the box and Alexis Sanchez's headed finish into the net are."

It's looking at the guy behind The-Guy-Behind-The-Guy.

When Is Attribution Important?

Really, it's important all the time. But, in particular, it is important to use attribution modelling when you have various paid campaigns in action and you need to know which parts are contributing to your end goal. This tells you which parts are not and they can therefore be removed, tweaked or condensed.

This improves ROI and reduces spend/waste.

For argument's sake, take an example of a purchase with a lengthy Buyer's Journey; purchasing a car.

Somebody is in the market for a new car and begins researching ones they have seen around and that they like the look of. They might then go through the following interactions with your product:

  1. Search for a model or type of vehicle and see your paid ad on the SERP, click-through and read a little about your car before getting on with their day.
  2. Check their emails later in the day/week/month and see your ad via remarketing. They click through again and you have made it onto their mental shortlist of possible options. They bookmark your site.
  3. When they have time, at some point in the future, they go to their bookmarked link and organically arrive at your site, then request a quote or make a phone call to book a show room meeting. They end up purchasing a vehicle from you.

Which ad has contributed to the purchase and to what level?

"This improves ROI and reduces spend/waste."

With an effective attribution model to analyse your paid campaigns, you can appropriately allocate the success of each ad and keyword in the Buyer's Journey. From First Interaction to Last Interaction, everything in between and work out how to appropriate success along the full journey.

The Different Attribution Models

There are different ways of allocating the weighting across the different stages that a user interacts with your ads and keywords.

It depends on your reporting desires and where you choose to draw a line in the sand. Your logic could dictate that without the First Click, there would be no final conversion. Or you could view all clicks equally. Or you could want to most emphasis on the ad or keyword which confirms the sale.

So, Which Attribution Model Is Right For Me?

There is no one-fits-all model which we can advise is best for X, Y or Z business. The model that is right for you is dependent on your Buyer's Journey length and your paid campaign management and analysis styles.

You may spend more on certain types of ads than another, you may have consistent keyword placement across the board or it may vary. For these reasons, you should weigh up which type of attribution model is going to give you the type of analysis you need.

First Click Attribution Model:

Attribution Model First Click graph


What is it? 

First Click Attribution is the process of awarding all of a conversion's value to the keyword/advertisement the buyer used to first access your website, regardless of whether it led to a transaction in that session or at a later date.

When should I use it? 

First Click Attribution is ideal for those wanting to identify which keywords bring in qualified traffic that have a likelihood to convert at a later point (as opposed to just 'clicks'). This model allows you to prioritise bids on less competitive yet opportunistic keywords in order to conserve spend. In short, get likely buyers into your remarketing lists at a cheaper rate, what's not to love about that? 

Last Click Attribution Model:

Attribution Model Last Click graph

What is it? 

Last Click Attribution is active analysis the model in place within AdWords by default. Last Click Attribution awards all conversion value to the final keyword or advertisement that led to a conversion. 

When should I use it?

E-commerce focused? Check. Want to identify the key money-makers? Check. This attribution model is perfect for those wanting to identify the keywords and advertisements that gave their newly-acquired leads or customers that final push over the conversion line. This attribution model is normally enabled by default within AdWords but if you're taking over an existing AdWords account, make sure you double check. 

Linear Attribution Model:

Attribution Model Linear graph

What is it? 

Linear Attribution is the most broad way of assigning value to your conversions. It's essentially saying to AdWords that every step of the Buyer's Journey was essential to that final conversion. In other words, if you sell an item for £250 and they've accessed your site 5 times through PPC, each individual keyword within that journey was worth £50. 

When should I use it?

Ideal for those selling long-funnel products or services, such as: insurance, holidays and cars, where every marketing effort was essential to retaining customer interest. This model will help you effectively judge the effectiveness of awareness-based campaigns, where conversions would often go unrecorded when using the last click attribution model that's in place by default.  

Time Decay Attribution Model:

Attribution Model Time Decay.png

What is it?

In it's basic form, Time Decay Attribution means that the keywords/ads clicked closest to when the sale was made will receive the majority of the conversion value.

For example, if a customer accesses your website 3 times within a week's period, clicking keyword #1 7 days ago, revisiting through remarketing 2 days ago, then finally today (when they have more time) they search for your ad via keyword #3.

It's keyword #3 that will receive the majority of the conversion value as it was merely minutes separating that ad click from the conversion, whereas keyword #1 will get very little conversion value with 7 days time between that Ad Click and conversion.  

When should I use it? 

With it being one of the most neutral, logic-based attribution models, it can be applied to most products/service funnels. That being said, be aware that you may have a differing opinion on how important that first Ad Interaction was 7 days ago, than the model makes out. If they didn't see that first ad, would they have ever gone through the funnel? Does that matter, for you?

Position-based Attribution:

Attribution Model Position Based graph

What is it? 

Position-based Attribution goes on the assumption that the keyword bringing them to the site and the keyword closing the deal are by far the most important. Google therefore ensures 40% of the conversion value gets placed on the first and last keyword interaction respectively. The last 20% of the conversion value is then evenly delegated to whatever happened in-between, such as remarketing. 

When should I use it?

As this attribution model includes a blend between First, Last & Linear attribution, it's ideal for those who acknowledge that their Buyer's Journey is lengthy, but the keywords/ads in-between didn't spark enough interest to drive a conversion at an earlier point.

It's highly beneficial to those wanting to condense their customer's Buyer's Journey down, drive quicker sales and boost ROI by conserving spend through applying negative bid adjustments. 

So, those are the various models of attribution and some theory behind the application. But how do you apply the theory? Sam will explain...

How To Apply An Attribution Model In AdWords

You've identified which Attribution Model is going to give you the most accurate insight to your AdWords data, but now you're asking that question; "How do I implement an Attribution Model?" Here's some actionable advice.

NOTE; You must have conversion tracking in place. 

An Attribution Model is assigned per goal rather than being account based. Perfect for those accounts where you want to track not just how much revenue you make, but how many catalogue downloads you get.

To assign an Attribution Model simply:

1. Log into your AdWords Account

2. On the Navigation Bar, head to Tools > Conversions

adwords conversion analysis 

3. Edit or create the Conversion of your choice, via the "edit settings" option. You should see this: 2016-10-31 14-28-36.png 

4. You should see an "Attribution Model" dropdown. Simply select this and change to your new model of choice.

attribution models dropdown

How Can I Judge The Effectiveness Of My Attribution Model?

Whether you're looking to analyse the customer path towards a conversion or are just looking to compare how one attribution model stacks up against another, all of this can be found in the Tools > Attribution tab.  

Attribution Tab in Adwords 

You can filter views down by the relevant goal type, click type (campaign, ad group, keyword) to find the data that's right for you.

Looking At An Overview

By default, this should be the dashboard you land on. It will offer a general overview of your top performing conversions and key metrics such as: "Days to Conversion", "Ad Clicks per Conversion", amongst others. 

Analyse The Cross Device Activity 

A valuable and popular reporting view for those with long funnel purchases. This section will sum up a buyer's behaviour across mobile, desktop and tablet platforms to inform your bidding strategy and highlight further opportunities. You may find that people are coming across your website via a mobile device before returning to your website and checking out later via an Ad on desktop.

Tip: Apply a bid adjustment on mobile devices during peak commuting hours to boost sales later in the day on desktops. 

Monitor User Paths

Become familiar with the specifics, i.e. identify which campaigns, ad groups or keywords are performing hand-in-hand, even if one get's the majority of the credit (if Last/First Click is still enabled).

Often you'll find your consumer paths go through broader campaigns/keywords and get nicher as they edge towards that final conversion.

Look At Click Analysis

Identify where the majority of conversions first interacted with your PPC efforts and which campaign was also the last they interacted with. Although similar to the 'Paths' view, click analysis only considers the first and last point before a conversion whereas the Paths view details numerous campaign/ad group/keyword clicks between the first & last click.

Each of these different analysis styles should be thought about and tried in order to make sure your paid campaigns are as honed as possible, with the minimum amount of spend wastage.

So, that's Attribution Modelling in AdWords

There's no right or wrong when it comes to attribution and is purely subjective depending on your business goals from AdWords. Ensure you trial each model so you can identify which model best highlights the efficiency of your AdWords account, without unknowingly pausing high-performing keywords & ads.

Use This As Part Of A Wider Inbound Strategy

We are firm believers that PPC and paid campaigns need to be included in a fully effective inbound marketing campaign. They have an important role in gathering traffic and helping to create leads.

If you fancy learning more about inbound marketing, then read our free Inbound Marketing Guide, it explains what it is and how you can use it to benefit your business' marketing.