What is attribution?
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Plain language explainers to help you keep up with the evolving digital landscape.


What is attribution? If the goal of an ad placement is a "conversion," meaning that a person who saw an ad or interacted with a marketing campaign took a specific action, attribution is the accounting of that action. It’s about “attributing” or identifying which placement or targeted messages inspired the user to take action. An attribution window is the timeframe during which an action is attributed to a specific marketing touchpoint, providing insights into various stages of the customer journey.

How does attribution work?

Attribution is all about giving credit to the touchpoints that influence a consumer’s decision to take an action, like making a purchase based on an ad they’ve viewed. But a consumer rarely buys something after being exposed to just one ad. It often takes several “touchpoints,” or encounters, with a product and its ad before the consumer clicks “buy.”

This is attribution in action: A consumer researches a product online. Shortly after that, they see an ad on a social media site and visit the brand’s website. As they move on with their online usage, they’ll read a post on a news site or watch a video. The brand’s ad shows up again. And the consumer ultimately makes the decision to buy the product featured in the ad. 

How to measure attribution: Different attribution models help marketers understand the impact of each interaction in the customer journey:

  • First-click attribution: This method gives all the credit for a conversion to the first channel or touchpoint that a user interacted with.
  • Last-click attribution: This method gives all the credit for a conversion to the last channel or touchpoint that a user interacted with before making a conversion.
  • Multi-touch attribution: This method gives credit to all of the channels and touchpoints that a user interacted with on their journey to conversion, based on a variety of factors, such as the amount of time spent on each channel, the order in which the user interacted with each channel, and the value of each channel.

Why is attribution important to marketers? When it comes to determining ad effectiveness, optimizing their campaigns, and setting their subsequent budgets, marketers need to pinpoint the channels and ads that led to conversions. Attribution is about knowing what part of their spending “worked” and what didn’t.

Who needs to know what attribution is:

  • Digital marketing manager
  • Paid search specialist
  • Social media manager
  • Content marketing manager
  • Affiliate manager
  • E-commerce manager
  • Product manager
  • Marketing analyst
  • Brand manager

Use attribution in a sentence: “If I can’t measure it, I can’t buy it — as a media buyer, attribution is the foundation of everything we do to prove we made the right call on our placements.”