It’s 2019, shouldn’t multi-touch attribution be easy by now? You would think so, but you’d be wrong.

If you’re struggling to incorporate multi-touch attribution into your marketing analytics strategy, you’re not alone. Various technological and financial limitations make multi-touch rather complicated for the average business to do efficiently and accurately.

This post will help guide you through what makes multi-touch attribution so difficult and how to excel at it.

Why Multi-Touch Attribution Is So Complicated

As the name implies, multi-touch attribution incorporates the tracking and valuation of multiple parts of your digital marketing campaigns.

You have a lot more to take into consideration and accurately track than you do with single-touch attribution.

The more complex any given campaign, and the more comprehensive the data set you want to analyze, the more complicated your attribution calculations will become. Which is why things can get so muddy so fast. 

For the most part, the complexity of multi-touch attribution can be divided into three major categories:

  • Google Analytics and its limitations
  • Segmentation of marketing data
  • How expensive certain attribution tools are

These three challenges are the primary culprits when it comes to attribution headaches. So, it follows suit that solving these problems should help clear up your attribution.

1) Google Analytics Can Only Do So Much

Google Analytics may be the ubiquitous marketing analytics platform, but it has three main limitations when it comes to multi-touch attribution.  

For one, Google Analytics has default attribution models with limited multi-touch views; most notably first touch, last touch, and a handful of others. But setting up your own custom models outside of these presets is far from easy.

Secondly, Google Analytics only lets you compare data from 90 days prior to conversion, making it obsolete for longer sales cycles, ongoing comparisons, or historical comparisons.


For more holistic attribution, wider views are often necessary

And most importantly, Google Analytics’ terms and conditions prohibit the use of personally identifiable information (PII) in your conversion events.

This means that even if you are able to cobble together a multi-touch report in GA, you will have to go to great lengths to view individual lead journeys in a GA report (but more on this later).

2) Marketing Data Is All Over The Place

Marketers store data across multiple platforms—you might keep form submissions in Unbounce, call tracking and call recording data in CallRail, web session data in Google Analytics, and so on. It’s difficult to draw useful insights when your data is so fragmented.

Sure, you can tie many data sources back into Google Analytics. But the tool’s restriction on PII gets in the way of viewing the holistic, attributed lead journey. As a result, it’s harder to connect your marketing efforts to real-life sales and customers.

For large businesses with hefty budgets, marketing automation tools like Marketo or Hubspot can help fill parts of this data gap.

But these tools lack native tracking for some of the most important conversion events, like phone calls and live chats, and are often financially and technologically inaccessible for the smaller businesses who could benefit from them.

3) Multi-Touch Tools Are Expensive And Exclusive

Purchasing and implementing the right multi-touch tools is challenging and expensive—a company can expect to spend $1,500-$2,000 a month for full visitor-level lead tracking. While an enterprise company can surely shell out that much cash, smaller businesses are left out.


Additionally, most multi-touch attribution tools require integrations with select CRMs like Salesforce that not all businesses use. Small businesses, in particular, may not be using CRM software at all, making multi-touch tools technologically out of reach.

How To Excel At Multi-Touch Attribution

Despite these limitations, you can still succeed at multi-touch attribution with the right strategy and a little elbow grease. Below are the three main concepts you need to understand to nail multi-touch attribution.

1) Solve For Identity

Using your touchpoint data to determine a lead’s identity can be challenging, but it’s absolutely critical if you want to succeed at multi-touch attribution. Identity is the narrative glue that joins all of a lead’s touchpoints, so don’t shy away from the challenge!

As mentioned earlier, Google Analytics makes it difficult to connect your marketing data to actual customers. Luckily, you can work around this with cookies.

By setting up and passing unique identifiers stored in cookies, you can track a user’s behavior before they convert, and then connect that activity to a real person once they’ve given you their information (e.g. email via form submission, phone number via inbound call, etc.).

Here’s how to do it:

1) Determine which unique personal identifier you will use for identity resolution, or build custom JavaScript to set a cookie value with your own unique personal identifier. Make sure you use the same identifier across your entire website so you can associate it with web session data and lead capture events.

As far as tools are concerned, it doesn’t really matter which one you use, but make sure you can easily export the other session data you’ll need for channel/content analysis. (More on this in the “Capture the right data” section.)

2) Set up your forms with a hidden field to pass the unique personal identifier (e.g. Google Analytics client id) when the user submits a form, initiates a live chat conversation, or makes a phone call.

3) Determine where you will store and how you will unify each unique personal identifier with its respective session data upon a lead capture event. You can use a spreadsheet, a marketing automation platform, or even a CRM to store this data.

4) Choose a more meaningful (and durable) unique identifier for down-funnel interactions and analysis. I recommend using a lead’s email address as your main post-lead-capture identifier.

It’s much easier to tie down-funnel interactions and purchases to an email address than a long alphanumeric string that means nothing to anyone.

If you nail these four steps, then you’ll end up with a list of email addresses and their corresponding unique personal identifiers. This list will serve as your identity key for attribution analysis in other platforms (or for appending other data in a spreadsheet).

You’ll basically be set with a whos-who list of what emails and conversions came from which buyer’s/lead journeys on your site.

2) Capture The Right Data

In addition to a personal identifier, you need to ensure your analytics tool is capturing a minimum of three data points for each touchpoint: DateTime (date and timestamp), referring URL, and landing page URL.

  • Date and timestamp are pretty self-explanatory — knowing when the interaction happened lets you get a better sense of user paths and opens up different attribution models for analysis.
  • Full referring URLs give you a clear sense of which sources generate traffic on a more granular level than just the referral domain or channel source, as determined by your analytics tool.
  • Full landing page URLs tell you where the user entered your site and allow you to extract more information from parameters like UTMs.

Together, these three data points give you enough information to assess when, where, and how the touchpoint happened.

If you want to take your analytics to the next level, track form page URLs and pages visited prior to a form page URL. This is helpful for advanced content analysis that requires you to know which content is involved in conversion paths.

Assuming you’ve solved for identity and are capturing the necessary touchpoint data, you’re now ready to begin analyzing the data with attribution models—both single-touch models like first-touch and last-touch, as well as multi-touch models like position-based and time decay.

3) Compare Attribution Models For Best Results

Sometimes, marketers wrongly think that they need to choose the “correct” attribution model and base all their analysis on that data. In reality, there is no one correct model for any business.

You should really be comparing several attribution models to see which channels perform best at various points in the conversion paths of your users.

For example, let’s say Google Analytics tells you that, according to first-touch attribution, Google Ads receives credit for generating form fill outs on your website. But when you compare the same dataset to last-touch attribution, your email marketing should get credit.

This doesn’t mean that your data is wrong, or that one attribution model is more correct than the other. Rather, it suggests that Google Ads is more effective at bringing people to your site (first touch), and email is more effective at getting them to fill out a form (last touch).

Even with the limitations of Google Analytics, you can still get value out of its attribution model comparison tools if you know how to use them properly.

Play around with Google Analytics’ model comparison tool first and use what you learn there to analyze the attribution data you’ve started to capture.

Factor In Marketing Spend And Revenue

The last data you need to factor into your attribution analysis is financial. It’s not enough to know which channels get the most credit. You also want to figure out how many of those conversions turned into sales, and how much you ended up spending to get them.

To keep things simple, aggregate spend data monthly for high level channels (such as paid ads, trade shows, etc.). Then, use that data in your attribution reporting model based on the role the channel played to determine your cost per lead.

For example, let’s say you spent $5,000 on paid ads in one month. According to first-touch attribution, paid ads should get credit for the 20 conversions that took place. That amounts to a cost per lead of $250 for your paid ads channel.


If you need help making sense of your revenue and spending data, this template can take out some of the hassles.

We still have a ways to go before multi-touch attribution is truly easy and available to everyone. Until then, you can get the most out of multi-touch attribution analysis by developing an effective data-collection strategy and making full-funnel attribution a goal of everyone involved in marketing and sales.  

After all, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been!

Why Multi-Touch Attribution Is Still So Difficult & How To Excel At It

PS. This is not trivial to set up but if you spend significant amount on paid traffic, you just have to. Otherwise, you’re wasting a big percentage of your budget and you don’t even know which part it is.