The Mistake You’re Making When It Comes to Attribution Models  

Having the correct attribution model in place is absolutely essential to paid search marketing success. 

Suppose that you own a pediatric dental office (“Molars R Us Dental Clinic”) in Miami, Florida. A new patient’s mother sees your ad on her Facebook feed and clicks on it. A few days later, she performs three searches: “pediatric dentist Miami”, “molars pediatric dentist miami”, and “molars r us dentist miami”, clicking on each. She books an appointment on your website after clicking on your ad for “molars r us dentist miami”. 

If you’re using last click attribution model, the search term “molars r us dentist miami” would get 100% of the credit for the conversion, even though it seems like the Facebook ad may have played an important role in brand awareness in this scenario. 


Which attribution model should I pick?


For a detailed explanation of how attribution models work, read our blog post. But as a quick refresher:

– If you’re using last click, the last keyword (“molars r us dentist miami”) would get 100% of the credit for the conversion. 
– If you’re using first click, the Facebook ad would get 100% of the credit for the conversion. 
– If you’re using the linear model, each click would share equal credit (in this case, with 4 clicks, 25%) for the conversion. 
– If you’re using the time decay model, the “molars r us dentist miami” click would get the most credit because it was searched closest to the conversion.     The Facebook ad would get the least. 
– If you’re using the position-based model, the first and last clicks – the Facebook ad and the “molars r us dentist miami” clicks – would each get 40% of 
   the credit, and the clicks in the middle – the “pediatric dentist Miami” and the “molars pediatric dentist miami” clicks – would each get 10% of the
– If you’re using the data-driven model, the clicks will get credit based on past data from that conversion action (booking an appointment). 

Your attribution model determines what clicks get the credit for the conversion – so if you’re not using the right attribution model, you’re not going to clearly understand how you should adjust your bid strategies or which marketing efforts you should allocate more of your budget to.  You’re going to make assumptions, and everyone knows what they say about people who assume (makes an a** out of u – and – me). 

The attribution model you choose will depend on your goals. 

For example, if your campaign goal is brand awareness, first click will show you where your top-of-the-funnel engagement is. If you are running a complex campaign, and need to see how users get from organic search to conversion, then the linear model will show you what channels/keywords performed best. If you are running a long campaign, perhaps requiring educational material, then the time decay model will give you better insights than the other models. Position-based, one of the ones that Google recommends, is the best one to use if you’re trying to discover what keywords drove awareness and what keywords closed the sale – it’s one of the most comprehensive models. The data-driven model is the most sophisticated, but is restricted to campaigns with a high amount of clicks and conversions per month. 

If you’re running a campaign, and relying on data from the wrong attribution model, the decisions you make will be informed by the wrong data, and therefore likely be ineffective. 

Should the attribution model I’m using influence my bid strategy?


It depends! If you’re using a manual bid strategy, like we do, changing your attribution model won’t necessarily have a positive or negative impact until you use the data to manually update your bids. 

But if you are using an automated bid strategy like target CPA, target ROAS, maximize conversions, or enhanced CPC, maximize clicks, manual CPC bidding, cost per thousand viewable impressions (vCPM), target search page location, target outranking share, cost per view (CPV), and cost per thousand (CPM) bidding, you should match your bidding strategy accordingly (particularly if you use Smart Bidding). Changing an attribution model without adjusting your bidding may result in under or overbidding. 

For example, let’s say you use Smart Bidding, and you switch from last click to a data-driven model. You are currently running two campaigns with the following last-click performance in the Conversions column over the last 14 days:

Brand (lower-funnel) campaigns: $10 CPA, 400 conversions
Generic (upper-funnel) campaigns: $40 CPA, 100 conversions

If you look at the Conversions (current model) column, which reflects historical data-driven attribution performance, and notice the following:

Brand (lower-funnel) campaigns: $10.67 CPA, 350 conversions
Generic (upper-funnel) campaigns: $20 CPA, 200 conversions

If you switched attribution models and left your target CPAs at the original amounts, the change in conversions would imply a set of bid changes that would underbid on the Brand campaign and overbid on the Generic Display campaign. 

Understanding the relationship between attribution models and bidding strategy can be complex. The team at Empirical360 has extensive experience in managing and optimizing over 100 Google Ads accounts. We have a proven track record of success; we know exactly what it takes to win, and we have the expertise necessary to dramatically increase your ROI. Contact us if you have questions about which attribution model to use or if you’re interested in hearing how we can take your online performance to the next level! 

Shea Antonucci - Author

Director of Content Marketing

Shea is an expert content writer and is a classic literary nerd! She loves writing highly engaging content and has a knack for making it convert!