Don’t leave your Google Ads success to chance. Learn how to harness Google Ads attribution for maximum impact in all of your campaigns.

Here, you’ll find:

  1. What Google Ads attribution is
  2. How to understand Google Ads attribution models
  3. The pros and cons of each model
  4. Why choosing the right Google Ads attribution model matters
  5. How to determine which one is right for your business

Welcome to the world of Google Ads attribution, where every click matters and every touchpoint counts. 

Google Ads is a constantly evolving platform. To wit, anyone who has worked in PPC for a while will tell you their day-to-day has changed a lot in the past few years. 

A big driver of this change has been AI and data analytics. In the fast-paced work of online advertising, understanding the real impact of your campaigns is (obviously) crucial for success. 

The data proves it. Advertisers who switch to data-driven attribution from another attribution model typically see a 6% average increase in conversions, according to Google.

But with multiple attribution models at your disposal, choosing the right one can be a daunting task. 

Not to worry. This article will guide you through each model’s intricacies. We’ll also share expert insights to help you uncover the perfect attribution model for your business. 

 What is Google Ads attribution?

Google Ads attribution is the process of giving credit to different interactions or touchpoints along a customer’s journey that lead to a conversion or sale. 

It helps you understand which digital marketing efforts are driving results and allows you to make data-driven decisions to optimize your ads effectively.

Sound complicated? Well, it’s not as complex as you might first think. Let’s take a look at an example to get a clearer idea of how attribution works.

An example of Google Ads attribution

Imagine a potential customer, let’s call her Lisa, is planning to buy a new smartphone. 

Her journey begins when she sees a display ad while browsing her favorite tech blog (this is what is known as the first touchpoint or click). 

Intrigued, she clicks on the ad and looks at the phone’s features on the advertisers’ website. 

A couple of days later, Lisa receives a targeted ad on YouTube (this is what would be known as the middle touchpoint or click). The ad reminds her about the product. 

She clicks on the ad again but doesn’t make the purchase. 

Finally, Lisa receives an email newsletter showcasing a limited-time offer for the phone (this would be the last touch or click). This time, she clicks on the email link and completes the purchase.

In this example, each interaction — first, middle, and last — played a part in Lisa’s buying decision. 

Google Ads attribution would help the advertiser to share the credit of the generated income to each touchpoint. The advertiser will then have a more comprehensive understanding of Lisa’s customer journey and how effectively each ad drives conversions.

Pro tip: There used to be six attribution models, but first-click, linear, time decay, and position-based models were all sunset in summer 2023

Website analytics dashboard on tablet

Choosing the right attribution model depends on aligning your campaign goals with the insights you seek from your data. (Image: Adobe Stock)

 Understand the Google Ads attribution models

One of the major issues that trips people up with Google Ads attribution is the multiple options that are available. But when it comes to attribution models, one choice isn’t always better than the other.

So, it’s important to understand them so you can pick the one that will work best for your business. 

Choosing the right attribution model depends on aligning your campaign goals with the insights you seek from your data,” HawkSEM’s Director of Marketing Operations Jenny Palmer explains.

Her advice? “While data-driven attribution offers a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of touchpoint contributions, it’s essential to consider other models that cater to specific aspects of your marketing strategy,” she says.

Here’s how they work. 

1. Last-click attribution

In the last-click attribution model, all the credit for a conversion is given to the last click the customer made before the conversion occurred. 

Essentially, the final interaction is considered the most crucial in getting your customer to convert. While this model is simple and easy to implement, it may not provide a comprehensive view of the customer journey, as it neglects earlier touches.

When to use the last-click attribution model

This model is good if your business has a short sales cycle or if you sell impulse-buy products. You may want to use this model if you are an ecommerce store running a flash sale, for example.

2. Data-driven attribution model

Data-driven attribution model is a game-changer for advertisers. That’s because it uses your own data to distribute credit based on user behavior. 

Unlike models that rely on predefined rules, the data-driven attribution model leverages machine learning algorithms to analyze vast amounts of data from your Google Ads account, website interactions, and conversions.

The model then considers the impact of each interaction and assigns credit based on its actual influence on driving conversions, tailored to your unique customer journey.

When to use the data-driven attribution model

You can use the data-driven attribution model for your Google Ads conversion tracking when you have a complex, multi-channel strategy, substantial historical data, and a diverse customer base.

It offers precise insights into each of your touchpoint’s contributions, giving you the power to make data-driven decisions to optimize budget allocation and your ad strategy.

The data driven model is the default attribution model for most conversion actions in Google Ads. Doing so gives better credit to keywords and improves data along the funnel.

Using this model also improves the effectiveness of your automated bidding strategies because it feeds more information about the interactions that led to the conversion.

 Google Ads attribution models: Pros & cons

Each model has its uses, and while one is not necessarily better than the other, one may work better in a specific situation. To help you better understand this, here is a list of the pros and cons of each attribution model. 

Last-click attribution: 

  • Pros: It’s simple and easy to implement.
  • Cons: It can ignore the impact of earlier touchpoints and may lead to an incomplete understanding of the customer journey.

Data-driven attribution:

  • Pros: It can be tailored to your business for more accurate insights, provides granular understanding of touchpoint contributions, and offers a holistic perspective of advertising performance.
  • Cons: It requires substantial historical data and conversions, and implementation may be challenging for smaller businesses.

 Why choosing the right Google Ads attribution model matters

The choice of the right Google Ads attribution model depends on your business goals and the complexity of your sales funnel. But having the right model can make or break your success in your campaigns. 

If you choose the wrong model, you may end up attributing more value to ads that aren’t driving conversion. 

The choice of attribution model should align with your campaign’s specific goals,” says Palmer.

“Data-driven attribution provides a sophisticated overview, but depending on your priorities, you may also find value in models like first touch and last-touch attribution.” She adds that balancing these insights helps tailor your marketing efforts for maximum effectiveness and a deeper understanding of customer behavior.

At the end of the day, it’s essential to regularly analyze and experiment with different attribution models to gain deeper insights into your advertising performance. A/B testing both models can help you make informed decisions and optimize your ad spend effectively.

 Which Google Ads attribution model is right for your business?

Using the most appropriate attribution model is critical to ensure that you accurately measure the success of your Google Ads campaigns. To determine which model is right for your business, you may want to consider the following:

  • Analyze your customer journey: Map out your customer journey to understand the various touchpoints involved in the conversion path. Identify which stages and interactions are most critical for your business.
  • Define your business goals: Clearly define your advertising objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs). Different attribution models may align better with specific goals, such as increasing brand awareness or driving direct sales.
  • Experiment and compare: A/B test both attribution models to compare their performance. Use data-driven insights to evaluate how each model affects your understanding of customer behavior and impacts your decision-making.
  • Flexibility and customization: Don’t limit yourself to a single attribution model. Alternatively, create custom attribution models that align precisely with your business requirements.
  • Use the model comparison tool in Google Analytics: This shows the impact of different attribution models. It will allow you to choose the best model for your business. Your Google Ads attribution model should align with the one you use for other channels.
  • Review attribution reports: You can do this in Google Ads.
  • Continuous optimization: Remember that customer behavior and the advertising landscape evolve. Regularly review and adapt your attribution model to stay aligned with your business objectives and changing customer journeys.

The takeaway

Google Ads attribution models offer you a window into your customers’ journey. They can help you identify the most effective touchpoints and channels that drive conversions. 

Whether you opt for a straightforward approach like last-click or leverage the precision of data-driven attribution, the key takeaway is that attribution models can help you in your decision-making and guide you on where to spend your ad budget.

Continuously test and analyze attribution models to unlock invaluable insights. From there, you can optimize your advertising strategies and propel your business to new heights of success in the dynamic landscape of Google Ads.

Contact HawkSEM for Free Consultation