Beginner’s Guide to Multi-Source Attribution Modeling

Keeping track of multiple campaigns is essential in gleaning insights about your visitors and optimizing the ROI of those seemingly disparate banner ads, e-mail blasts, and search campaigns. It isn’t as enjoyable as a walk on the beach, however. A bit of customization might be required depending on the tools you use.

In the same way multivariate testing helps online marketers tweak content and creative elements on landing pages to find out what works, multi-source attribution allows for discrete and holistic analysis of several marketing touch points.

Luckily, there are some great solutions for free and paid tools to make our lives easier.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is by far the market leader in free web analytics tools. But setting it up for multi-source attribution can be somewhat complicated. By default, Google Analytics presents last-touch attribution, whereby the last documented traffic source and campaign is awarded the conversion.

Google Analytics Custom Variable

It takes a bit of work to set up, but the folks at SEOmoz have written an excellent tutorial on how to get past last-touch attribution in Google Analytics. Essentially you have to set up your scripting to utilize custom variables containing concatenated multi-visit referrer or campaign information. It’s a bit of a steep learning curve, so make sure you get on your web developer’s good side with some coffee and doughnuts.

Tip: If you want to get your feet wet in understanding different types of attribution, consider delving into your Google AdWords Conversion Funnel reports. You’ll quickly appreciate the power of understanding how different campaigns contribute to success events, if only for your PPC campaigns or ad groups.

Yahoo Web Analytics

I’m also a big fan of Yahoo Web Analytics, but not because I love underdogs. I often refer (lovingly) to it as “the poor man’s Omniture.” Although it might sound like a knock on them, it really isn’t. Yahoo Web Analytics is an extremely powerful tool.

Yahoo Web Analytics Attribution Filter

Luckily, not much has to be done to configure Yahoo Web Analytics for multi-source attribution modeling, aside from choosing the type of attribution: direct (last click), original (first click), or intelligent (last click, unless other organic visits exist). Smart! Next time you see Yahoo folks at a conference, make sure to buy them a drink.


Omniture Cross-Visit SourcesDespite what some people may say about how cool it sounds to flush money down the toilet (oh, Avinash…), large organizations often have privacy concerns related to sharing visitor data (sensitive or not) with Google or Yahoo. Paid tool provider Omniture really excels at implementation customizations, so it’s probably no surprise that they have a solution for multi-source attribution.

When I grow up, I want to be more like Adam Greco, an Omniture configuration god. In a recent blog post, he detailed how to implement cross visit traffic source attribution using the Omniture Cross-Visit Participation plug-in.

This is amazing stuff, because it does much of the hard work for you, concatenating traffic types into long strings that display user paths to conversion. For instance, one user traffic source path might be displayed in SiteCatalyst as “SEO|E-mail|PPC” or “Social Media|SEM|Typed/Bookmarked.”


The days of untargeted marketing efforts are well behind us. Determining ROI isn’t the Holy Grail it used to be due to an assortment of tools available to help implement, measure, and react to multiple marketing tactics. Although this article only covered three popular tools, Google Analytics, Yahoo Web Analytics, and Omniture SiteCatalyst, thousands of other options can help leverage decisions based on multi-source attribution modeling.

Join us for SES Toronto June 9-11, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Toronto. The event will be packed with sessions covering topics such as PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more while offering high-level strategy, big picture, keynotes, an exhibit floor with companies that can help you grow your business, networking events, parties and more.

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