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What are Google Ads Attribution Models and How to Use Them: The Ultimate Guide

Google ads are an investment, so you want to ensure you get the best possible ROI from every dollar you use. Google ads attribution models are the resources that help you determine this.
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Attribution modeling helps you determine which marketing touchpoints and actions are responsible for your conversions. As such, attribution modeling is critical to any marketing campaign. With it, you can identify which elements of your ads bring conversions. With this information, you can better design and enhance your campaigns with the right ad groups, keywords, and ads that give your business value for your investment.

The challenge, though, is in implementing Google ads attribution models. That's because attribution models are not a blanket or uniform setup. Each of them is unique in how it credits conversions, and they suit different brands differently. Thus, a model that may work for one brand will not be appropriate for your brand.

This aspect makes crediting conversions to the right touchpoint in the market journey a challenge for PPC marketers. Any PPC marketer must understand how the various google ads attribution models differ when crediting conversions to the respective touchpoints or interactions.

That is the purpose of this guide. In it, we cover the six Google ads attribution models and explain how you can choose the right one for your business and how that can boost your business.

Google Ads Attribution Models

Currently, there are six Google ads attribution models:

  • Last Click Attribution

  • First Click Attribution

  • Linear Attribution

  • Time decay Attribution

  • Position-Based Attribution

  • Data-Driven Attribution

The Last Click Attribution Model

This model is also called the last touch attribution model. That is because it credits all conversions to the last point before a customer converts. That means the most recent interaction a client has with the ad, and the corresponding keyword, are seen as having the most impact in creating the conversion when using the model.

It does not consider any interactions the customer may have had during their journey.

This approach explains why brand campaigns often get credited for most of the conversions, unlike other campaigns, because users are more likely to google a brand-related term as the last interaction before conversion.

The last-click attribution model, however, fails to appreciate the complex nature of the modern ad approach, which is not only multi-interactive but also exposes different messages to the users at varying points of their marketing journey.

Many or all of these points can contribute to the user's eventual conversion. Take the example of running multiple Google ads on Search, YouTube, Display, and Shopping. If the user converts while on a YouTube ad, it gets full credit regardless of whether the other ads have contributed to the eventual result.

In this attributed model, whether the user started with a brand search or even a generic service or product-related search does not count. The final point of conversion gets all the credit.

When do you use the last-click attribution model?

If you haven't changed your ads account settings, you are most likely using the last-click attribution model. That's because it is the default model Google ads use for conversion interactions. You could continue with this model if the service or product you are advertising does not require much buying consideration.

For example, this model can work for you if you are a fast-moving goods brand where the user takes little time to make a buying decision.

The First Click Attribution Model

Here is another model which attributes a conversion to one point. As the name suggests, it only considers the user's first ad interaction. Therefore, if the user searches or encounters other keywords and ads, only the first one is given full credit for the conversion.

When to use the first-click model

If your business relies heavily on brand awareness, consider this model so that the first interactions get the credit for conversions. Thus, the ad clicks at the start of the user journey claim responsibility for conversion.

You can use the information to determine the keywords that got attention and drove engagement. It is also an excellent model to use when getting started on Google Ads since you need to generate more brand awareness for your business.

You should, however, remember that depending on your product, the users could interact with other ads, touchpoints, and keywords, so this model may give inaccurate data.

These first two Google ads attribution models focus on one touch point without considering the influence other interactions may have on the conversion. The remaining four take a different approach where the credit for conversion is spread on various touch points along the user's journey.

Linear Attribution Model

In this model, all available touch points are attributed an equal share for creating a conversion. Regardless of the number of touchpoints or interactions present, each is seen to contribute equally to the eventual conversion. Thus, if your campaigns have five potential interactions, they each get 20% of the credit.

When to use the linear attribution model

This model is perfect for a brand where all ads add equally add something to the conversion. It is ideal if your campaigns are structured so that every interaction drives the user further in their journey to conversion or multiple conversions.

Time Decay Attribution Model

In this model, conversion credit is assigned based on how close in time the touch point was to the conversion. Thus, the nearest touch point in time gets the most credit, while those far back in time get half a credit. However, it is sometimes more complicated.

The model uses a seven-day half-life, meaning if the user had an interaction with your messaging on the eighth day to the conversion, this interaction only gets half as much as the credit that happened on the seventh day or a day before the conversion.

When to use the time decay attribution model

The time decay model is perfect if you often run promotions on your Google ads account. You can also use this attribution model if you are running time-sensitive campaigns, as you can gain insights into what influences customers during promotions.

In both scenarios, assigning most credit to the touch points closer to the conversion in time makes sense since these interactions are more relevant to the promotions or the urgency portrayed than those that happened in the past.

The Position-Based (U-shape) Attribution Model

In this model, the first and last touchpoints get equal and the most credit for conversions. The other sections are not discarded but get to share the remaining portion. The first and last interactions get 40% each, while other points, regardless of their number, share the remaining 20%.

Using this model, you can identify the keywords or campaigns that capture the user's attention, which ones closed the conversion, and the ones that contributed to the conversion.

When to use a position-based attribution model

This model works for businesses where the first and last touch points influence a user's conversion. If your brand emphasizes the first and last click more than the middle touchpoints, then this is a model you should use.

The Data-driven Attribution Model

This model gets its name from how it assigns credit for conversions. It uses past data on conversions to determine which interaction to attribute conversions credit.

This way, it differs from all preceding Google ads attribution models since it does not directly give credit to fixed positions but uses historical information to calculate which ad interaction gets which credit.

This approach removes any guesswork, and the model used machine learning to accurately determine which keyword or aspect of the campaign contributed significantly towards getting the conversion. However, it is only an option available for some accounts. Your account needs to have had at least 3000 clicks and 300 conversions in the last 30 days to use the data-driven attribution model.

It is also a continual requirement, meaning your account should consistently have a minimum of 10 conversions daily if it is to continue using this model.

When to use the data-driven attribution model

Because of its accuracy in automatically assigning credit, you should use this model if you have a high volume of ad clicks and conversions. Now, while plenty of other conversion actions can qualify for the model conversion volume notwithstanding, the google requirement for having a set number of clicks and conversions within a 30-day limit means only some accounts are eligible.

Which one of Google Ads Attribution Models is the best

As a PPC marketer, it is vital that you understand that there is no right or wrong attribution model. It is all about which one fits your business best. Finding the right one involves examining how unique your business is and what its needs are, your goals, the purchasing trends of your customers, and what makes more logical sense to you. You should also understand your customer's journey and consider how you want credit assigned.

If you want to learn more in practice about the various conversion options present, go to your Google Ads account and click on Google Attribution Tool. To get it, follow the steps below:

  1. On the Google Ads Main Menu, click on "Tools and Settings"

  2. Under the "measurement" section, pick "Attribution"

  3. Check the left side section and click on "Model comparison"

The model comparison tab will show how conversion data on any campaign or a different aspect varies across the attribution models. In your comparison check, identify any change in the conversions as you bring up other models.

You should also keep an eye on how the various models affect the cost per conversion value. Do not be surprised by the changes since it is expected as different models credit the interactions differently.

How to change the attribution model in Google Ads

By now, you clearly understand the different Google ads attribution models. You also know how to pick the right one for your business. With that, it may be time to change the default or current model to one more suited to your business needs. Here is how to you about doing this.

  1. Ensure you have admin or full access to the Google ads account

  2. Look for the Tools and Settings icon in the Google ads account

  3. Click on Measurement, and under it, select Conversions

  4. Choose the conversion action you want to change: this step lets you see the current attribution model.

  5. Click Edit Settings, and select the Attribution Model drop-down.

  6. Choose the attribution model you would like to use

  7. Save your changes and click the Done button.

Here are a few things to remember as you set up your new attribution model.

  • First, the newly selected model will inform Google ads how you want conversions to be credited from this point onwards.

  • The attribution model will only affect the selected conversion action and only applies to Search, YouTube, Display, and Shopping ads. The changes do not affect the data from phone calls and mobile apps.

  • Instead, those ad networks will still use the last-click attribution model, which is Google's default model.

Google Analytics Attribution Models

From your work as a PPC marketer, you already know that the Google ads platform is not the only one that uses attribution models to determine which touchpoints get the credit for conversions. Google Analytics also uses them to distribute credit for the various touchpoints along the user conversion funnel.

Here is an overview of how they work.

What are Google Analytics Attribution Models?

Unlike the Google Ads platform, which only uses one default attribution model, Google Analytics has six default attribution models, all under one category called the baseline model. Besides this category, the only other category is the custom attribution model.

Google analytics' six default models are closely related to those of the Google Ads network and similarly assign their conversions. They are:

  • Last interaction attribution model / last touch attribution model

  • First interaction attribution model / first touch attribution model

  • Linear attribution model

  • Time decay attribution model

  • Position-based attribution model

  • Data-driven attribution model

The platform also has two unique attribution models not present in the Google Ads setup.

The Last Non-direct Click Model

As the name informs, this model gives all conversion credit to the last non-direct click the user made before conversion. According to Google Analytics, direct traffic is any traffic that originates from a user searching a web page using the page's URL on the search bar.
This model will not give credit to such actions, instead attributing the conversion to the last non-direct contact.

What this means is that a customer could first interact with a display or a search ad, and their next interaction may be with social media or an ad on YouTube.

After that, they may then go on to search the brand using its URL on the search bar to make a purchase or other conversion action. This model will credit the social media or YouTube interaction with the conversion as it was the last non-direct contact.

Last Google Ad Click Model

This option is relatively straightforward, as the model attributes a conversion to the last Google Ads clicked before the user converted.

Does Google Analytics Use Last Click Attribution?

Google Analytics uses the last-click attribution model as a default when providing reports for multi-channel funnels. You can get these reports under the conversion section in your Google analytics. On the other hand, for all non-multi-channel reporting, Google Analytics uses the last non-direct click attribution model.


Google ads attribution models are an essential resource when evaluating the performance of your ads. Because each of them is unique and serves different purposes, your decision on which attribution model to use has a significant bearing.

The model you use will inform all your critical decisions on your Google Ads account. Such decisions include whether you want to bid more on a keyword, boost the budget for a particular campaign, cut, or even wholly stop spending on certain ads. You cannot make such decisions based on the wrong data, making it essential to pick a model that best serves your business.

Understanding all the available attribution models and what they offer is the first step in picking the suitable model for your business. It is not as straightforward as you may think. The unique path of your target users and the different business goals means this decision is always challenging for most PPC marketers.

Our guide has provided valuable insights that will aid you in picking the right choice. Set aside some good time to evaluate the nature of your business and its needs before you settle on any attribution model.

We are interested to know your challenges in using or picking Google ads attribution models.

We also welcome any questions or experiences you may want to share on Google ads attribution and how they impact your business. Do not hesitate to reach out to us on anything around this topic. We are always glad to help.
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