For Business

The art of marketing attribution modeling

Learn how to track and attribute your marketing and ad spend to understand the impact on sales.


With the number of marketing channels growing every year, choosing the right channel to reach your target audience can be challenging even for seasoned marketers. As an ecommerce merchant, should you spend more resources on omnichannel marketing, social media, search engine optimization, or good old email marketing? The short answer: It depends on your shoppers.

Once you’ve locked on the right channels for your business (a deep dive for a future blog post), then there’s the work to find ways to measure and attribute the impact that your marketing campaigns are having on your growth goals—the deep dive for today.

Shoppers interact with your brand in a variety of ways across different channels throughout their journey. As they experience your brand, you want to make it easy for them to make a purchase. To find out which marketing channels are most successful in driving conversions, establishing a marketing attribution model is important for any ecommerce business.

This article covers:

  • The basics of marketing attribution
  • Choosing and implementing your marketing attribution model
  • Troubleshooting marketing attribution

If you’re a merchant at the foundational stage of business maturity—you’re just getting started in ecommerce—we’ve included a few insider tips for you throughout this article.

The basics of marketing attribution

Before we dive into marketing attribution models, or different ways of measuring the impact of your marketing and advertising programs, it’s important to understand some foundational concepts.

What is marketing attribution?

Marketing attribution is understanding how various marketing and advertising tactics contribute to a shopper’s behavior while visiting your site.

Using marketing attribution, you can learn:

  • Which marketing channels drive the most conversions and sales
  • Which campaigns offer a better return on investment (ROI)
  • Which marketing tactics turn shoppers into loyal customers

ㅤInsider tip: When to start thinking about marketing attributionIf you’re launching marketing and advertising campaigns, it’s important to set up your tracking and reporting mechanisms early so that you and your team have clarity on how you measure success.

“Merchants can fall into a trap of thinking that the data and tracking that informs reporting and attribution is a given,” says Sean Townshend, Marketing Operations lead for Buy with Prime and Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment. “As you’re planning marketing and figuring out where you want to start investing in terms of advertising and driving traffic to your website, it’s important to think about the end-to-end reporting, what you want to get out of your marketing spend, and all the things that you need to do to ensure that you’re ready to hit the ground running from day one.”

Establishing a marketing attribution model that works for your business in the early days is a good way to get the data you need to make informed decisions as your business grows.

What’s marketing attribution modeling?

In an ideal world, a shopper clicks on your ad, then visits your store, and makes a purchase. But rarely is their journey so straightforward. A few ads, a TikTok video, an email, and a user-generated review can all influence purchase decisions. These touchpoints don’t happen in a linear fashion, and it’s up to you to figure out which touchpoints are more impactful. Marketing attribution models provide the data to help you decide which of your channels are more successful and worthy of additional investment.

According to experts, the following are six of the most widely used attribution models:

Single-source attribution

  • First-touch attribution models assigns all the value to the first channel the shopper interacted with. This model is easy to implement, but it fails to account for touchpoints later in the customer’s journey that could have an equal or greater impact on their purchasing decision.

    When to use a first-touch attribution model: It can help you determine the most effective channels for generating brand awareness and getting traffic to your site. It’s best for gathering insights on ad or marketing copy and short buying cycles.

  • Last-touch attribution models credit the value to the final touchpoint before the purchase is made. Similar to the first-touch attribution, it’s easy to implement, but it doesn’t account for the prior channel interaction a shopper had with your brand.

    When to use a last-touch attribution model: It can help you choose the most effective channels for driving conversions and sales. It’s best for end-of-funnel shopper activities.

Multitouch attribution

  • Linear attribution models assign equal weight to each touchpoint throughout the customer’s journey. For example, if you’re running a campaign across four channels, then each channel will receive 25% of the credit. This model provides a more complete picture of the journey, but it doesn’t take into account the different levels of impact that each channel had on a shopper’s buying decision. And it’s more challenging to implement.

    When to use a linear attribution model: It can give you directional insights on your entire marketing strategy. It’s best used when each channel has equal importance in relation to your marketing goals.

  • Time-decay attribution models give more credit to the most recent touchpoint. The further away from conversion or sale, the fewer points those early touchpoints receive. This model recognizes every channel but may assign unwarranted weight to the last channel as the most influential.

    When to use a time-decay attribution model: It can help you understand the impact that recent touch points have on conversions versus earlier ones. It’s best for longer sales cycles.

  • Position-based attribution models, or U-shaped attribution, give a 40% credit each to the first and last touchpoint, and 20% is given to other touchpoints between the two. This model lets you assign a significant credit to the campaign that brought the shopper to your site (first touch) and also to the campaign that helped convert them (last touch), while also crediting all the other interactions along the shopper’s journey.

    When to use a position-based attribution model: It can give you a balanced measure of the impact of all marketing channels engaged to drive conversions. It’s best for less complex customer journeys.

  • Custom attribution models let you assign weight to the touchpoints of your choice. The most complex and sophisticated of the multitouch models, custom attribution puts you in control of the rules to measure impact.

    When to use a custom attribution model: It can deliver the most accurate and optimized results, but it’s also the most challenging to set up and requires a lot of historical data and machine learning expertise. It’s best used for personalizing marketing channels and assets to specific business goals.

Learn more about the different attribution models from Amazon Ads.

Insider tip: Choosing a marketing attribution model
While multitouch models promise a more complete picture of your marketing and advertising efforts, it’s best to start with a single-touch attribution model that is easier to set up and doesn’t require as many resources to support it. (Read on to learn what it takes to build an attribution model.)

“The mental model of crawling before you walk and walking before you run is a really good approach for this,” explains Sean. “Over-investing from day one and trying to understand all the nuances of your marketing investments might preclude you from building a model at all, because there are just so many variables. Start small and get learnings before you add a lot of complexity to your analytics.

While there’s no “right” model for every business, Sean suggests choosing a simpler model, such as first or last touch, out of the gate and making sure that you’re establishing a standardized way to capture learnings. Starting out with a simpler model helps you build a foundation of insights that can be used to move to a more complex model as your business grows.

Choosing and implementing your marketing attribution model

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the different models, let’s explore different reasons for selecting an attribution model, and dive into the steps to put one in action for your business.

How to choose a marketing attribution model

The best attribution model is the one that suits your business. If you’re a new business, it’s best to start with one that is simple to implement and manage.

There are two main questions to ask as you start your exploration: What are your marketing needs? And what are your marketing goals? Once you answer those questions, your choice of an attribution model will depend on factors such as the number of marketing channels you activate, your sales cycle, your campaign scope and timing, and your customer journey.

For example, if you’re trying to understand whether your email campaign is driving sales, it makes sense to choose a single-source attribution model, like first or last touch.

Alternatively, if you want to know whether your entire marketing strategy is serving your goals, then you should consider a multitouch attribution model.

“There’s never a perfect answer for which model to choose, because every organization is different and you have to decide which information will empower you to make the best decisions moving forward and optimize your investment at that moment,” Sean says. “Marketing attribution is an ongoing investment in analytics that you need to continually evaluate and adjust as your business evolves.”

How to build a marketing attribution model

Start by identifying the metrics that you want to track to help you understand sales drivers and the channels that drive conversions from your marketing initiatives. Then collect and analyze data.

Choosing a marketing attribution model might seem to be more art than science, while collecting the data requires accuracy and precision.

“Although selecting the right attribution model for your business is important, it’s critical that you have tracking elements, such as conversion pixels on your site and UTM parameters, and a standardized process for gathering data in place to make whatever model you select work,” Sean says. “This is incredibly important from day one.”

There are three steps to collecting data and attributing specific tactics to desired end actions that drive your business.

Step 1. Set up conversion pixels to track shopper engagement. Pixels are small bits of code that are placed on websites to gain insights about the ways users interact with your site and ads. These include Meta Pixel and Google Ads conversion tracking for advertising and Google Analytics for conversion events (touchpoints).

If you’re using Buy with Prime, you can use conversion tracking to get insights about Buy with Prime orders on your site. Learn more about conversion tracking for Buy with Prime orders.

Buy with Prime merchants also have access to the Social Ads for Buy with Prime app, allowing you to automate the creation of ads for shoppers on Facebook and Instagram and track their performance from the app dashboard.

Step 2. Create a consistent system for UTM parameters. This helps track the impact that specific marketing assets, such as ads or blogs, have on conversions. UTM codes are strings of text added to the end of a URL to gather metrics and performance of specific brand assets or all elements of marketing campaigns.

For Sean, building shopper use cases and standardized naming conventions for UTM tracking are the most important parts of building an attribution model. It has to be clear, easy to understand, and include all the relevant details that will help you paint a picture of how your marketing assets are engaging shoppers and driving conversions.

“When you have just a few marketing channels, standardized naming conventions from the get-go helps you future proof,” he explains. “As you grow and add new marketing channels to the mix, you’ll appreciate having one consistent standard for how you’re building your UTMs.”

As you add more marketing channels, launch new products, or translate your content for additional languages, you’ll need to update your UTM parameters accordingly. These types of updates are important for both future-proofing your analytics, and ensuring that you continue to capture performance data at a granular level.

Learn more about UTMs from Google Analytics and how to use UTMs to track your social media performance.

Step 3. Get familiar with the pros and cons of attribution models, conversion tracking tools, and analytics reporting platforms. While there are some similarities among all your models and data inputs, there are important nuances across the tools and platforms that can impact the efficacy of the insights you get, Sean notes. “It’s likely that the analytics between different services won’t exactly align.”

Google Analytics has its own reporting, so does Meta Pixels and Twitter, or any other service. Different ecommerce providers also provide their own marketing reporting tools and dashboards. If you’re combining data from different platforms and tools, make sure it there’s some alignment so you’re not comparing apples to oranges.

Once you set up and understand your reporting system, you can collect and analyze the data from conversion tracking tools and UTMs. The insights you glean can help you make decisions that can improve your marketing programs to better meet your business goals.

Insider tip: How to compare data from different channels or servicesSean recommends starting with Google Analytics. Not only do most marketers use it, but it’s the foundational and original tool for UTM tracking and has the easiest learning curve.

“If you’re using a third-party ecommerce provider like Shopify or BigCommerce, it’s really important to understand their analytics and attribution reporting out of the box, as well as the integrations that they have with others, like Meta or Google,” Sean says. “Each service and each marketing channel will essentially have its own kind of siloed conversion pixel data tracking, which is integral for optimizing ad spend on those individual channels. Seeing how those layers fit into the sales data and reporting within your ecommerce provider is a great way to start putting the pieces together.”

If you’re a BigCommerce merchant, learn about your marketing reporting. If you’re a Shopify merchant, learn about your marketing insights.

How to improve a marketing attribution model

Continue to monitor the data over time to identify trends, successes, and areas of improvement. And then switch up or adjust your marketing strategies and campaigns accordingly. The more data and insights you collect, the easier it will be to move from a single-source to a multitouch or custom attribution model. As your business evolves, so too must the way you think about the methods you use to attribute value to your marketing initiatives.

Troubleshooting marketing attribution

As noted previously, marketing attribution modeling is an ongoing, iterative endeavor and hard to master. A single attribution model can’t universally meet the needs of every business. But with continuous monitoring and adjustment, selecting the right attribution model can be a useful tool for gaining marketing intelligence for your ecommerce business.

But a comprehensive attribution modeling article wouldn’t be complete without addressing the challenges that you might face as you select and implement the right model for your business.

Challenge 1: Embracing the realities of a click

You record data from conversion tracking and UTMs when a shopper clicks on an ad or a link in a social media post or email. But a shopper can also become your customer after watching a video ad or finding their way to your site through organic search. Make sure your tracking system collects enough click data from multiple channels to balance out pixel or UTM conversions and familiarize yourself with view-through conversion tracking.

Challenge 2: Thriving in an omnichannel world

Ecommerce businesses can use non-digital marketing channels, such as ads in newspapers, on billboards, or in a physical pop-up store. If your shopper journey includes those touchpoints, make sure to account for them in your marketing attribution model.

A similar challenge is accounting for shoppers who use several different devices to visit your ecommerce site. That’s one of the limitations of a single-source attribution model that doesn’t account for multidevice or multitouch journeys in an omnichannel world. Learn more about cross-device conversion.

Challenge 3: Respecting data privacy

Around the world, countries are implementing more data and tracking regulations and laws to protect consumers’ personal data. With privacy at the forefront of shoppers’ minds, devices and browsers are adapting, which makes attribution models that rely on tracking less accurate.

“It’s important to be thinking about the new privacy laws and limitations on different types of tracking,” Sean says. “It’s important to understand that it’s happening, understand the changes, and to speak to others inside or outside your industry about how consumer engagement in digital environments is evolving.”

How to avoid feeling overwhelmed with marketing attributionMarketing attribution is a complex undertaking and can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be if you start slow and simple. When you’re getting started, take your time to research and understand the underlying data opportunities and the tracking tactics that are available across different platforms.

“Attribution doesn’t come ‘out of the box,’ so you have to do your due diligence and chart a path to get the insights that you need to grow your business,” explains Sean. “There’s so much information out there that it can be daunting to look at. But if you start small, avoid trying to do everything at once, and concentrate on one or two priority channels, you can use your data to figure out what’s working and how to optimize your spending.”

As mentioned, attribution modeling is both an art and a science, and hopefully these insights help you find the right marketing attribution model for your business. When you’re ready to add a shopping experience that millions of Prime members trust to your ecommerce mix, check out how Buy with Prime can help.
Kelby Johnson