6 min.
What is Attribution? The Shoe Store Example
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What is Attribution? The Shoe Store Example

Paid Media & SEM E-commerce Analytics & Tracking

Imagine there’s a shoe store located on a street or in a shopping mall that has three employees:

  • a guy wearing a sandwich board outside the store who lures customers inside by highlighting current store promotions;
  • a salesperson in the store who suggests shoes to customers, goes to the back room to get the sizes needed and helps customers try them on;
  • a cashier that processes transactions.

If you had to give the commission for a shoe sale to only one person, who would it be?

  • The sandwich-board person who drew people into the store? Is it possible those customers would have come in anyway? Certainly a few of them came in because of their influence.
  • The salesperson who ultimately spent the most time with the customer and who influenced their purchase?
  • The cashier? After all, the customer does make their final decision at the cash…


This type of question is referred to as attribution. It’s an approach, and practically a science, whose goal is to determine which marketing effort, tactic or investment deserves the credit for a sale or conversion.

It’s a fairly dry and complex subject, but one that is essential to marketing in general and to digital marketing in particular. We need to be able to understand and evaluate the effect of every tactic and investment given the avalanche of data and metrics available in the digital space.

Several models for analysis exist. Here is how each applies to our shoe store example and to digital marketing.

IconesAdviso_03Last Interaction

According to this model, the cashier should receive 100% of the commission, or in an online context the point at which the last interaction took place before an online purchase.


IconesAdviso_11First Interaction

In this model, the sandwich-board person should get the whole commission. Is this more accurate? In digital marketing, we often see brand investments start the conversion process.



According to this model, the commission would be divided into equal parts, even if the customer didn’t really find the sandwich-board guy convincing. With this approach, investments in reputation, consideration, search or social media all carry the same weight.



Here, the first interaction and the last divvy up the booty. The salesperson gets absolutely nothing.



IconesAdviso_08Time Decay

In this model, there is a progressive distribution of the commission, where the sandwich-board person gets only a tiny part of the commission, the salesperson a bit more and the cashier gets the rest.


Which method should you choose?

Each model has its limitations. The truth is, the moment you decide on a particular model, you are assuming that all of your customers took the same decision-making process, which is impossible. All these approaches offer ways of analyzing, optimizing and determining the role of every investment in your overall acquisition efforts.

For some of your more innovative products, it’s possible that the investments in your reputation, through a video campaign for example, launched most of the conversion processes that were then supported by remarketing efforts, which ended in brand research just before purchase. For other more mundane products, it’s possible that a generic search on Google does most of the work. Attribution analysis doesn’t produce precise or black-and-white answers, but rather a crucial data point for analyzing the contribution of every effort and creating better tactical and investment synergy.

Google Analytics already gives me the source of my conversions?

Google Analytics offers a lot of data and has a very interesting reports section related directly to attribution, but it also has a few significant limitations.

What Google Analytics can do

If your digital marketing efforts are correctly captured by Google Analytics (see the following section), you will be able to see the contribution of every medium (search, email or social, for example) and the source (Google, La Presse or newsletter, for example) in each of the main conversion pathways through the Multichannel Funnels report, which is found in the conversion reports.

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The limits of Google Analytics: Adequate capturing of the data

I’ve seen a few hundred Google Analytics accounts in my life, and the most frequent problem I’ve seen is the lack of rigour in the use of UTM tags, which enable you to correctly attribute every traffic source that leads or doesn’t lead to a conversion.

Haven’t you noticed that your actual efforts on Facebook to promote your brand are a lot more significant than what Google Analytics indicates? That’s normal.

The two most botched and therefore underrepresented sources in Google Analytics are social and email, since both come from:

  • another program or app: like Outlook or the iPhone email app or social apps like LinkedIn and Facebook. When you share information on Facebook and your customers use the Facebook app, the traffic will be reported as “direct” in Google Analytics if precise UTM tags were not used;
  • another website: Google Analytics was conceived to measure traffic to your site, so if you click on a link in your inbox on Gmail.com, or even on Facebook.com, and the community manager has not specified UTM parameters, the traffic will be identified as “referral” and not “email” or “social.”

Without this measure—which could be more easily done for you by using software or apps that will enrich UTM tags automatically—you will only have a partial view of your efforts and cannot perform an accurate attribution analysis. Such software exists for both email and social media publishing.

The limits of Google Analytics: Just clicks

Google Analytics was made to measure clicks, but there are often other elements that influence us as consumers that don’t involve clicking, and which therefore will not be measured by Google Analytics.

pasted-image-0-1 (1)For example, a video ad on YouTube, Facebook, TOU.TV or even a banner on LaPress.ca could interest you and generate a Google search within minutes or hours without your having clicked on anything. It’s a significant phenomenon, and to be able to see the effect of these marketing efforts, you must use an ad server that is able to provide a perspective that is similar to Google Analytics, but which adds the impressions that played a role in the conversion process. This is like being able to see the sandwich-board guy in action and appreciating their influence.

Consider having an ad server and providing access to your advertising agency, or asking your agency to give you access to its reports in order to perform an analysis. Not using an ad server is becoming less and less acceptable since you need to have at least a certain amount of data to perform an optimization.


Analyzing attribution is a continuous effort. Some tools like Google Analytics 360 offer solutions involving artificial intelligence that analyze and simulate the effect of a budget change or tactic removal on attribution, but nothing will replace access to good data and a continuous improvement process.

If you want to learn more about attribution, or you’re curious to know the solutions provided by Adobe, I strongly recommend that you read this article written by Yann Kerveant!

It could be interesting to analyze the attribution data from your acquisition program from an external point of view, whether that means managing it internally or calling on the help of an agency. The advantage of distance and expertise generally enables the generation of major improvements in performance. Need a clearer point of view? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of experts.